Enrollment numbers are vital to Montana’s public schools because the number of students translates into how much money the Montana Legislature appropriates to fund them.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen spoke with KGVO News over the weekend and explained.

“Enrollment is different than attendance,” said Superintendent Arntzen. “I just want to make sure that's understood. Attendance is a daily number, and it is a database that's collected in that classroom. Enrollment, however, is collected at the state level in October, and in February, and then those numbers are averaged and that's what puts the funding forward in a percentage form to fund our public school system in the biennium.”

Due to COVID 19 and the shifting numbers of students physically attending public schools, Arntzen release a report over the weekend that shows a remarkable increase in home schooling throughout the state, in fact, nearly double from the previous biennium.

“Because we really dig down into the numbers of home school, private school and public school, there definitely has been a COVID 19 impact based on the movement out of public school, but also out of private school. It seems that our home school numbers almost have doubled. So we're almost at 10,000 students that are partaking in home school at this moment.”

Arntzen said the usual number of home schooled children is less than half that amount.

“Normally we have about 4000 home schooled students,” she said. “They notify the county annually, and these students pretty much stay at their kitchen table, and they're either in a home school coalition doing their math and their reading, they then if they want to graduate, they go ahead and they take a GED or a high set test, and then that is what exits them out of their schooling.”

Montana’s public school enrollment numbers remain unchanged from the November 25 release. Montana saw a 3.8 percent decrease in K-8 public school enrollment and an increase of 2.1 percent in public high school enrollment for a cumulative decrease of 1.8 percent in public school enrollment.

Arntzen said she was providing the numbers from this most unusual school year to the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

“I have given all of our numbers that we have gathered to the University of Montana to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, so they can factor these into much more of a bigger model,” she said. “That's where income analysis, that's where housing sales are researched, and that analysis, along with the COVID numbers, can all be put together in a model to see exactly what is happening regionally, what's happening in our counties, and what might be a model moving forward as we become healthier, into late spring and into summer.”

State funding for public education is one of the largest portions of the legislative budget.

In 2019, Governor Bullock signed a $77 million public education funding bill.


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