EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Public school students are back in the classroom with no COVID-19 restrictions for the first time since 2019, but private schools in Rhode Island are reporting record enrollment and homeschool co-ops are also on the rise.
At the start of the 2019-2020 school year, there were almost 133,000 students enrolled in Rhode Island public schools. By the end of the last school year, 6,500 of them were gone.
Leaders of private and homeschool co-ops told 12 News that those families are coming to them. West Bay Christian Academy, for example, says its applications have doubled. Homeschool families have also grown by nearly 77 percent since the pandemic.
“More and more public school families are definitely seeking us out,” said Sarah Marshall of Monsignor Clarke School.
According to data published by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), public school enrollment over the last two years is the lowest it’s been in the last decade.
“It’s always concerning when we see our numbers drop,” Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said. She pinned this decline on the pandemic and anticipates a turnaround. “We’re 100% open, so we’re hoping that families will come back into our system.”
But private and homeschool leaders say COVID was just the catalyst.
“I think it was a wake-up call for parents,” Marshall added. “They are concerned about what they’re seeing. They are paying attention to the curriculum.”
“We don’t bring up politics and the outside world. We just stick to what we do best and that’s educating children,” said Stacia Souza of West Bay Christian Academy.
“In the public schools we try to provide a wide array of a well-rounded education,” Infante-Green noted. “Not that the others don’t, but it is more of a bigger kind of curriculum that is not as narrow based on the state standards.”
Data for this year’s enrollment is expected in late fall.