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Schools see fewer students in 2020

Enrollment drops as the coronavirus plagues districts

Even if a coronavirus vaccine hits the market soon, the West Virginia Department of Education still might need a shot in the arm by state lawmakers to avoid a potential $42.7 million shortfall by this time next year.

That’s because there are 9,300 fewer students in the state’s public school districts than this time last year.

And West Virginia’s schools receive funding based on enrollment numbers.

Miller Hall, who is president of the state Board of Education, mapped pandemics and paychecks during a state board meeting in Charleston last week.

School districts receive funding based on their enrollment numbers, Hall said. Numbers for the academic year are always finalized in October.

COVID-19 owned October in West Virginia this year.

No districts were immune. Monongalia County, hailed for its relative economic prosperity and success as a district, is down 500 students, as compared to October 2019 to October 2020.

Kanawha County, the home county of Charleston, the state’s capital, usually runs around double  Mon’s enrollment, but it took a hit also, with 650 less students in its district during the current academic year.

Reduced cash flow begets belt-tightening, Hall said, by eliminating teacher and service positions along with certain programs.

However, one way to avoid the bleed, he said, is by asking state lawmakers to freeze the current funding rates. The 2021 session is set to convene January in Charleston.

Look for all of the above on the agenda, Hall said.

“This will be an issue that will have to be discussed,” the state BOE president said.

Another way, he continued, is for human nature to take its course.

If the pandemic lessens because of a vaccine and vigilant protocols, parents may start feeling comfortable about sending their children back, he said.

He’s counting on that, in fact.

“We anticipate a significant portion of these students will return to public school once we have a vaccine,” he said.

Mon Schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr. agreed.

Two hundred of the 500 county students not in class this year are being home-schooled, he said.

The other 300 are divided between two  private schools in the county.

Almost all the students are in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, Campbell said.

The superintendent is hopeful almost all of them will come back once the state can begin to emerge on the other side of the pandemic.

Mon’s district is in the midst of a coronavirus surge, quarantining teachers, students and one full class at Eastwood Elementary.

And statewide, that’s the rule and not the exception, Shannon McBee said.

To date, 84 outbreaks have occurred in schools across the state, said McBee, an epidemiologist with the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health.

For school building purposes, the state defines an outbreak as two or more confirmed cases among students or staff from separate households — within a 14-day period in a single classroom or core group.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jim Justice ordered all public and private school buildings closed until Dec. 3 after Thanksgiving break.

And he suspended the winter sports of basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, swimming and cheerleading until Jan. 11.

Remote learning will continue during the closures, while the state watches for evidence of community spread. 

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