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Phantom Students, Very Real Red Ink: Why Efforts to Keep Student Disenrollment from Busting School Budgets Can Backfire

Beth Hawkins, The 74 Million |

It’s K-12 education’s financial third rail: Money is supposed to follow students. So how do schools keep the lights on when the kids hardest hit by the pandemic go missing?

Nearly halfway through the school year, the scope of the problem is becoming clear — and the solution is hard to fathom. In Michigan, 53,200 students have not shown up. New York City public schools have lost some 31,000. Miami-Dade is down 16,000. Anchorage started the year with 4,000 fewer students than projected.

Estimates are that nationwide, 3 million children are not enrolled in school — anywhere. The human toll may go uncalculated for years, but the principals and others responsible for their schools know that each missing student means less money to work with for all kids.

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