Enrollment in Florida's public schools plummets during pandemic

Nearly 90,000 of Florida's public school students have disappeared.

"Tens of thousands of students dropping out of school, this would be like closing the Brevard county public schools. That is about the number of people who go to school in Brevard County," said Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay.

Public school enrollment estimates have plummeted during the pandemic. Education officials and Florida lawmakers are trying to figure out where those students have gone. Fine, who is chairman of the Florida House Pre-K through 12 appropriations subcommittee, says there are four possibilities. 

"Some of those students may be homeschooled. Some of those students may be in private school. Now, theoretically, their parents should have given a form to the school district so they know that. That hasn’t happened. The third group of parents may have chosen to hold their children back from kindergarten. The fourth and probably the largest group are no school. That is just crazy to think about," Fine said.

The legislature’s office of economic and demographic research released the latest student-enrollment numbers in late January,  but the question is, how much of that drop can be attributed to students leaving public schools for homeschooling or private school. Something we won’t know until they look at the numbers again.

"Next month we are doing an updated count and we will see if that 87,000 number has come down. If students have shown up, if forms have come in, if school districts have found some of them," Fine said. 

Local lawmakers say this is also a big issue for school funding. Fine says schools shouldn’t be paying for kids that aren’t there. He calls it phantom funding for phantom students. 

"The size of the phantom funding for phantom students is about $700 million a year. So we are spending $700 million that we could be spending on healthcare, that we could be spending on roads or police, or to improve the environment. Instead, we are spending $700 million educating students that aren’t actually in school," Fine said.

Watch FOX 35 News for the latest local, national, and trending stories.