PHOENIX – After enrollment declines in school year 2020/2021, Arizona’s public-school student count numbers are showing signs of rebounding, thanks in part to the Arizona Department of Education’s efforts to reach students and families and to efforts made by schools at the local level. When comparing public school preliminary student count numbers from September 2020 to September 2021, schools are seeing an overall student count increase of 3.5%*. Particularly impressive gains were made in kindergarten, where student counts show a 15.7% increase from September 2020 to September 2021.
At the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 through the start of the 2020/2021 school year, many Arizona families made the difficult decision to unenroll or became otherwise disengaged with their child’s public school. Last school year, the Arizona Department of Education identified a public-school enrollment decline of 38,500 students from school year 2020/2021 compared to school year 2019/2020’s enrollment numbers. This led to Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman leading the Department in an innovative Ready for School AZ campaign, focusing on students and families at a high risk of being unenrolled or not re-engaging with their public school for the 2021/2022 school year.
"We knew we needed a strategy to support student enrollment efforts happening at the local level," said Hoffman. "A statewide effort was needed to re-engage students and families—and these preliminary student count numbers show signs of success. While these are just preliminary numbers, the trends are encouraging, and we are hopeful for a much better official enrollment count this school year compared with last year.”
The first-of-its-kind Ready for School AZ campaign involved a variety of community outreach methods including the creation of a website and hotline to provide resources and support for families as well as television and radio ads in both English and Spanish. Teachers, administrators, parents, community organizations, and others provided vital input through the campaign’s AZ Ready for School Task Force, helping ensure success.
Superintendent Hoffman added: “Even with the bumpy and confusing school year, it's clear families are ready to get back to their public schools. Fortunately, due to federal relief and recovery packages more public schools now have the resources they need to help students and families make that adjustment. It's vitally important that we take COVID mitigation seriously so we can keep students learning in-person without disruption.”
The Ready for School AZ campaign supplemented the important work done at the local level to re-engage and re-enroll students. School counselors, educators and other staff also put an enormous effort into working with their students and families to safely welcome them back to in-person learning.
In April 2021, Hoffman announced $21.3 million dollars to supplement the School Safety Grant Program, allowing all the unfunded school counselor and social worker positions on the program waitlists to be completely funded for the next two years. Arizona schools have received over $4 billion dollars in federal relief and recovery dollars to support academic acceleration, mental health support and general recovery from the devastating impacts of COVID-19.
“This effort was about more than just getting students back in school - it’s about helping them heal and thrive,” said Hoffman. “Our work is not done, but we are making progress.”
* These preliminary figures reflect average daily student counts as of the specified dates. Average daily membership is a measurement that is based primarily on student enrollment and used in school funding formulas. Because families move or have other life changes throughout the school year, these preliminary numbers may not exactly match the official accountability enrollment numbers reported yearly. Annual “October 1” official enrollment numbers will be released in the coming months.