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West Virginia’s public school enrollment has dropped to about 250,900, a decrease of 1,460 students from last fall, the state Department of Education revealed Wednesday.

That’s a 0.6% decrease. Kanawha County enrollment fell 1.5%, from 24,700 to 24,320. Cabell County dipped 1.8%, from 11,860 to 11,650.

Monongalia County increased from 11,060 to 11,260. Berkeley County grew from 19,250 to 19,680.

Department Technology Officer Tim Conzett said, “if there’s a silver lining here,” it’s that the statewide decrease wasn’t as precipitous as in the past.

“And certainly it is much, much different from what it was last year,” Conzett said.

The department’s annual enrollment number is a snapshot from each October.

Statewide public school enrollment plummeted 9,300 students from October 2019 to October 2020.

State schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said that “really hit us hard. We kind of braced ourselves for that one and assumed some would come back.”

Like the state’s population, West Virginia’s public school enrollment has been declining for decades. The 9,300-student drop was a 3.5% one-year decline, more than double the 1.6% drop (4,120 students) from October 2018 to October 2019.

Parents’ hesitation to send children back into classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic might have caused a greater decline last year. Conzett noted at the time that parents placed about 5,000 more students into homeschooling, and about 4,000 fewer students enrolled in free public prekindergarten.

The state requires school attendance of some type — public, private or home school — starting in kindergarten, but prekindergarten is optional.

Department officials haven’t yet provided information on, for instance, how many of those who skipped preschool have entered public elementary schools.

State funding for public schools is largely based on the prior school year’s enrollment.

“Early estimates are a $6.5 million decrease in state aid funding due to the decline in student enrollment,” said Education Department spokeswoman Christy Day.

Starting next school year, public school enrollment won’t just be threatened by families moving, declining birth rates, private-schooling or homeschooling. On Wednesday morning, not long before the enrollment data was presented to the state Board of Education, a separate board approved West Virginia’s first three charter schools.

While the statewide public school enrollment drop was lower than the previous annual decline, it’s still more than the entire student body in each of a dozen county school systems.

Of the state’s 55 counties, Gilmer had the lowest enrollment, at 800, up from 770 last fall.

Ryan Quinn covers education. He can be reached at 304-348-1254 or ryan.quinn Follow

@RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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