The initial unaudited 2020 fall enrollment count is down by roughly 53,000 students from last fall's count for Michigan's K-12 school districts and public school academies.
State Superintendent Michael Rice announced the 3.7% decline Wednesday.
In a written statement, Rice estimated that about three quarters of the decline is due, in roughly equal shares, to fewer kindergartners, more homeschool kids, and an estimated public school population decrease based on an average annual decrease of 13,000 students over the last ten years.
"The remainder, approximately 13,000 students, is a significant concern," said Rice.
"Every child is important," Rice said. "To lose even one is too many."
Rice attributed the increase in homeschooling to more parents at home during the pandemic, and he said many parents have chosen to wait a year for their child to start kindergarten because of challenges of distance learning or possible schedule disruptions in the pandemic.
Rice said local schools and school districts have been working hard to find the estimated 13,000 "missing" children.
"That's the big problem that's going to require all hands on deck over the next year," said Peter Spadafore, deputy executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators. "To try to locate these students to ensure they're getting the education they need and deserve."
Spadafore said that means a statewide effort involving social services, local governments, and non-profits, as well as school districts.
Addressing the overall enrollment decrease, Spadafore said there are budgetary concerns, in addition to educational ones, because state funding for schools is based on the number of students enrolled.
"In an environment where we're seeing this type of decrease, that's going to be a huge negative impact on budgets at a time when we're seeing expenses rise to accomodate multiple forms of learning, the added costs of PPE and all the expenses that go with keeping students safe and providing the right social and emotional supports to them," said Spadafore.
Rice also called for better financial support for public schools and for the enactment of a state law to require a count of homeschooled children.