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Montana: public school enrollment is down, homeschool and private enrollment is up

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Posted at 6:37 PM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-01 20:37:37-04

HELENA — The Montana Office of Public Instruction has released the 2023-2024 public, private, and homeschool data. The data shows a general decrease in enrollment for public schools and an increase in enrollment in non-public schools such as private and homeschool.

This downtick in enrollment comes after an over 10-year trend of consistent increase in public school enrollment.

Superintendent of Public Instruction, Elsie Arntzen, posits that the pandemic may have helped increase parents’ awareness of various options available. She also says budget constraints made worse by inflation hinder districts’ ability to provide at the same standards as they once did.

“Yes, the pandemic, but it also opened up innovation and an opportunity for parents to really see their child and recognize which system might be best for them,” says Arntzen.

Lewis and Clark County has seen some of the biggest decreases. There’s been a decrease in public school enrollment of 2.23% or 226 students.

Doug Tooke, Head of School at St. Andrew School in Helena has seen an increase of enrollment over the past school year, from 198 last July to 220 for this upcoming year, coupled with a steady increase throughout the school year. He says that private schools can cater to children through smaller class sizes, more attention to students, and lifestyle preferences.

“But we also, you know, we just discipline ourselves with smaller classrooms, so, I mean, there’s a lot more hands-on experience from our dedicated educators,” says Tooke.

Currently, Arntzen has created a working group made up of 170 people who plan to organize data about education cost and submit it to the legislature before the next legislative session where school budgets are likely to be discussed.

“These are people that really want to understand what is the cost of education. That’s the very first part of recognizing what we could do differently. If we know where we are right now in a dollar and in a value then where is it that we could want to be,” says Arntzen.