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More Students Being Home Schooled In State

Enrollment data released earlier this week from the Office of Public Instruction shows there’s been an increase in students seeking private or homeschooled instruction and a decrease in public school enrollment for the 2023-2024 school year.

Public K-12 students decreased by 1,988 students, or 1.3 percent, this year and the nonpublic enrollee population grew by 403 students or 2.4 percent. The number of homeschooled kids, factored in the nonpublic enrollment, rose by more than 9 percent in the last year.

Superintendent Elsie Arntzen attributes the shift in part to families wanting to homeschool their children.

“Like all Montana families, our public school districts are facing budget constraints due to increasing costs and inflation. Montana schools must prioritize student learning in their budgets as this decrease leads to fewer state dollars,” Arntzen said in a statement.

The state’s public school funding formula depends on student enrollment numbers– called the “Average Number Belonging” calculation. As populations decrease, that means less funding for public schools in the state — one factor in the budget cuts school districts are facing.

While there was a slight decrease in public school enrollment this year, when looking at the last four years, there has been an overall increase in enrollment, with nearly 3,000 more public school students enrolled since 2021 for a total of 148,585 students in 2024.

There’s been a slight decrease in nonpublic school enrollment since 2021, with the department reporting there 360 less enrollees in 2024 than in 2021.

More recently, between 2023 and 2024, there was a decrease of 382 students (marking a 3.6 percent change) in private school and a 725 increase in homeschools students (up by 9.3 percent). But there’s about the same total number of private school students and homeschooled students in the state, at 8,584 and 8,524 respectively.

School districts across the state are cutting their budgets or asking voters to levy taxes to help maintain their operating budget. These cuts have largely been attributed to funding losses from a decline in enrollment during more than two decades, coupled with the drying out of pandemic era federal funding.

Public school enrollment peaked in the late 1990s in Montana at about 165,500 students, 17,000 more than current enrollment.

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