Florida’s K-12 enrollment projections continue to decline

Andrew Atterbury

TALLAHASSEE — State economists as of Friday are projecting that Florida’s schools will enroll some 21,000 fewer students than anticipated in 2022-23 as Covid-19 proves to have a lasting effect on education.

The latest estimates approved by economists could mark the third consecutive year where K-12 enrollment came in well below expectations amid the pandemic. With Gov. Ron DeSantis proposing a record-high education budget for next year, the prospect of fewer students reporting to schools across the state has the potential to swing millions of dollars.

Breaking it down: Florida is now projecting to enroll 2,964,998 students in 2022-23, a decline of 21,677 students compared to estimates from the fall that DeSantis used in his education budget proposal, according to data presented at Friday’s estimating conference.

At the spending rate proposed by the Republican governor, those students would account for roughly $173.4 million in the state budget.

DeSantis’ education budget, which he presented in December, projects funding 2,986,676 students in K-12 schools across the state, which would have been an increase of 118,287 students, or more than 4 percent compared to estimates for 2021-22.

But, as economists noted Friday, projections for the current school year also are lower than originally forecast, staggering that possible enrollment upswing.

Florida is now projected to enroll 2,912,887 students in 2021-22, a rate that is 15,480 students fewer than estimates from August. That falls in line with updated data from last year, which shows that Florida enrolled 2,801,507 students in 2020-21. That’s 15,086 fewer students than expected.

Based on the latest data, Florida’s enrollment is projected to increase by 52,111 students in 2022-23, less than half the rate suggested in the proposed DeSantis budget.

Florida at one point reported an enrollment decline of more than 76,000 students in 2020-21, a staggering drop triggered by the pandemic that led lawmakers to carve out $112 million in federal Covid-19 relief to address the decline. State leaders also kept education funding steady despite the enrollment churn as another way to protect schools from losing cash during the pandemic, although this practice is not expected to continue.

What’s next: State economists are lowering enrollment estimates for future years as they expect the downward trend to continue. Florida is now projected to enroll 3,086,686 students in 2026-27, which comes in 52,101 students below previous estimates.

Additional enrollment figures showing more localized data is expected to be released in the coming days.

The updated enrollment projections are sure to get attention from House lawmakers who have kept a close eye on dwindling student numbers and efforts by local schools to account for students who were deemed "missing" during the pandemic.