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TPS has lost about 3,000 students in past year; district says decline is largely due to pandemic

TPS has lost about 3,000 students in past year; district says decline is largely due to pandemic

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Tulsa Public Schools lost about 3,000 students in the past year, a significant decline that the district largely attributes to COVID-19.

Administrators originally projected the loss of about 700 students between October 2019 and this month, in line with enrollment trends from the past decade. Instead, the number of departing students fell just short of 3,000 — nearly three times the average over the past three years.

On Monday, TPS Chief Operations Officer Jorge Robles said the district’s current enrollment — as of Oct. 1 — is 32,323, compared to 35,298 the previous year. The enrollment figures do not include TPS-sponsored charter schools or early childhood partners such as CAP Tulsa.

Robles said he believes the pandemic is responsible for much of the higher-than-expected enrollment loss. Declines were heaviest in the lowest grades due to fewer new students enrolling, while high school grades remained relatively stable.

“We know that we can attribute the impact of this year to the pandemic because it’s the underenrollment of the lower grade levels that has gone down, but it’s not necessarily attrition,” he said. “We saw a steep decline in pre-K after three years of consistent growth.”

Many families also have decided to leave Tulsa Public Schools, which has remained in distance learning since the start of the school year, for suburban districts and other options. It’s unclear, Robles said, how the district’s recent decision to transition to in-person instruction in the coming months will affect enrollment.

The declines are most apparent among Latino students, with the Hale and East Central feeder patterns being most affected.

TPS has experienced declining enrollment since the 1970s, but the decline has become more pronounced in the past decade. The district lost about 5,000 students from the 2010-11 school year to 2019-20. This year’s loss brings that to about 8,000.

Robles said the district has lost about 3,580 students to Epic Charter Schools and gained about 1,140 students from the virtual charter since 2013-14, resulting in a net loss of about 2,440 students.

Charter schools, including Epic, have accounted for much of the enrollment decline over the past 10 years, Robles said.

Additionally, there’s been a steady net loss of about 1,200 students to suburban school districts each year, with Union and Broken Arrow being the primary destinations of departing TPS students.

Despite significant movement to the suburbs, Robles said Tulsa continues to have a stable population of school-age children due to births and relocations.

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Tulsa Public Schools superintendent Deborah Gist cites one-time funding and budget shortfalls in education, as well as the mental health crisis in needs for more funding during the COVID-19 pandemic

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