One trend that developed during the wave of school closures during the depths of the coronavirus was parents enrolling their one-time public school kids in alternative education programs.

The question was could this trend –small, but noticeable – become something much bigger as the 2021 school year gets underway?

We don’t know have answers yet. But Reason’s Matt Welch notes, there may be early signs the trends of 2020 are taking hold:

Until two years ago, public schools in brownstone and gentrifying areas of District 15 [in Brooklyn, NY] were experiencing long enrollment upswings, which ran concurrently with a citywide increase in public school “uptake” from around two-thirds of all resident children to three-quarters.

Those trend lines are now collapsing. The DOE serviced 43,000 fewer kids last year, a drop of more than 4 percent, while charter school enrollment increased by nearly 10,000 despite a state-enforced cap. The five-year numbers prior to this fall are even more dramatic—government-run schools are down more than 5 percent (including 18 percent for kindergarten), while charters are up 31 percent. “Half of all 32 New York City school districts have lost at least 10 percent of their enrollment these past five years,” noted the New York Post.

Enrollment for 2021–22 is still unknown (as far as I can tell, my local elementary still mistakenly believes my soon-to-be first-grader will be attending), but preliminary data from the spring indicated that the kindergarten population, far from bouncing back after a “redshirt” year, would continue to plunge: Applications were down 12 percent, after having declined 9 percent the year before.

One gentrified school district does not make a national trend. But there’s other data showing the seeds of a move away from public schools and toward alternatives:

A joint Stanford Graduate School of Education/New York Times study of 70,000 public schools in 33 states three weeks ago showed that those offering remote-only learning at the beginning of 2020–21 experienced a 3.7 percent decline, while those with in-person schooling went down 2.6 percent. “In other words,” Stanford education professor Thomas S. Dee told the university’s publicity department, “going remote-only actually increased the enrollment decline by about 40 percent.”

Again: this is something to watch. Public school enrollment figures drive local, state, and federal spending decisions. They are also entwined with a host of political issues—union presence and power, for example – as well as overall educational quality.

Could a broader school choice movement be on the horizon? Stay tuned.