Private schools, homeschooling, school choice are way up in Washington state as public school enrollment plummets

Public school enrollment in Washington state is declining rapidly as parents seek better options for their kids, including private Christian schools, charter schools and homeschools.

As learning losses continue to mount for students in public schools, causing concerns for parents, many also are rejecting what they call radical “activist” curricula, hypersexualized content, remote learning and vaccine mandates.

An estimated 40,000 students left the system in 2020-2021, with more expected to come this school year. According to a report distributed by the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council, the projected enrollment is set to be below 2016 levels. 

The council also seems prepared for the likelihood that children who leave may never return, causing concerns for public school administrators. The district that spends the most money per student in the state, Seattle Public Schools, practically begged parents to re-enroll their children as budget cuts loomed.

A mass exodus from SPS perhaps came as no surprise when 57% of students failed in math and 40% failed in English. It gets worse, however, when looking at statewide outcomes. Recent school assessments show 70% of students in math and 52% in English failed to meet state standards. 

A group of parents interviewed by The Post Millennial said a huge factor in leaving their districts was the lack of in-person instruction and the low quality of education offered online.

Other parents cited “radical curriculum” as the tipping point. One parent said, “I did not realize what my kids were being taught until I had to listen to it every day in my living room.”

Potential vaccine mandates also have played a prominent role in the exodus. The Washington Board of Health is considering mandating the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the list of immunizations needed for child care and school entry.

Many parents are saying a vaccine mandate would be the last straw before they pull their children out of the schools. Others suggested they would even leave the state.

The public school exodus is a boon for alternatives in the state. Homeschooling numbers doubled last year. Enrollment at private schools and charter schools also has jumped. 

These drastic shifts away from public education have also increased the appeal of school choice policies for the state. In a recent poll, when asked about allowing “parents the right to use tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs,” a staggering 71 percent of respondents supported the idea. 

“These results show that parents and grandparents are demanding a flexible, student-centered school system where the priority is the education of the child, not the state monopoly system,” said Liv Finne, Center for Education Director at WPC.

Although students are leaving en masse, Democrats in the state legislature allocated an additional $644 million to public schools. Critics say these types of out-of-touch spending pushes have helped fuel the fire behind the school choice movement.

Since 2020’s COVID-induced lockdowns, 18 states have expanded their school choice options for students. 

The same trends are playing out nationwide, with public school enrollment across the country plummeting. Parents say they are fed up with low-quality, radicalized education, and the numbers bear it out.