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COVID-19 Pandemic Leads to 4J School District’s Largest Enrollment Drop in 59 Years

Brian Bull


The transition to comprehensive distance learning has led many students to switch to being homeschooled, or not enrolling in school at all. Now the Eugene 4J School District is experiencing the largest drop in enrollment since 1961. 

Student enrollment at the Eugene 4J School District has declined this school year. As of Oct. 1, the district has 15,839 enrolled students. That may seem like a lot, but that’s 679 students less than projected for this school year, and 474 fewer than enrolled in 2019.

Some of those students are accounted for and some aren’t.

Of the 474 students, two-thirds (roughly 314 students) either transferred to a virtual charter school or registered as homeschooled students. But according to board documents, that does not account for the additional drop in enrollment by 160 students.

Now the district is trying to figure out what happened to those students. 4J Director of Research and Planning Oscar Loureiro hopes to have more information about the drop in enrollment once the Oregon Department of Education releases enrollment numbers for all districts.

“There’s a number of students for which we don’t know if the families moved or if the families are still residing in 4J,” said Loureiro. “But the students are not attending.”

The biggest enrollment decrease occurred in kindergarten, with 274 (21.6%) fewer students than projected. And of that drop in kindergarten enrollment, 93% of students are White. Loureiro said this is the lowest enrollment of White kindergarteners the district has ever had.

Many elementary schools with larger percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch and are in low income families experienced the largest enrollment losses. The district reported other large Oregon districts have also seen similar enrollment drops concentrated in kindergarten.

And why does enrollment matter? Because it is one of the determining factors for how much funding the district receives from the state. According to 4J Chief of Staff Kerry Delf, the district’s budget projections estimated about $8,950 per student for the 2020-2021 school year.

The district is anticipating a decline in State School Funds (SSF) for this school year, and the 2021-2022 school year.  As of now, districts can choose the greater of the current year or prior year enrollment to calculate payments. 

Andrea Belz, 4J Director of Financial Services said this is done to help prevent an unexpected funding decrease. Funds are divided by an inflated statewide enrollment, and the amount paid per student declines.

“In a year where you have a significant shift between organizations of student enrollment, what happens is the losing organization will likely select the prior year as their source of funding calculation,” said Belz. “That’s the higher year of enrollment. Well, the organizations who receive more students will of course select the current year, as that’s more beneficial for their payment.”

But Belz said this can lead to students being double counted.

“The state school fund does not get any larger to account for all of these new bodies,” said Belz. “So each student receives, you might say, a smaller payment to the school district or the virtual charter where they are attending because we have to spread finite resources over a larger student population.”

Elizabeth Gabriel is a former KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She is an education reporter at WFYI in Indianapolis.
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