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Connecticut’s kindergarten enrollment is declining — and educators are concerned

Students' jackets belonging to four and five-year-olds hang on hooks by the classroom door at Hope for New Haven Day Care Center on April 26, 2022.
Julianne Varacchi
Connecticut Public
Students' jackets belonging to 4- and 5-year-olds hang on hooks by the classroom door at Hope for New Haven Day Care Center on April 26, 2022.

Fewer students are enrolling in Connecticut public pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms as the pandemic continues. But state education officials said this is a trend that started before the pandemic.

Since the 2014-15 school year, state data show that total enrollment decreased by 3.4% every year until the pandemic hit in March 2020.

Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten enrollment saw the sharpest declines for the 2020-21 school year, according to the state data. Compared to 2019, pre-kindergarten fell by about 3,500 students, from 18,829 to 15,300. That’s a 19% decline in a single year. Based on the same report, kindergarten enrollment fell by about 4,300 students — from 36,566 in 2019 to 32,256 in 2020, a nearly 12% decline.

The drop in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten enrollment is a concern because without early childhood development, the long-term consequences could result in learning delays, according to the state Department of Education. Kindergarten also provides an opportunity to identify developmental issues early on. The sooner a problem is identified, the sooner the child can get support.

“This will improve their ability to achieve throughout their school years,” the state Department of Education said.

Andrea Brinnel, an early childhood specialist with the state Department of Education, said that anecdotally families are choosing to hold back their children for many reasons, including COVID-related concerns, but officials don’t have the data to examine all of those factors.

The disruptive schooling experience over the past two years between remote learning, hybrid schooling and COVID restrictions has also left some children lacking in skills they may have learned before going into kindergarten, Brinnel said.

“They didn’t get the chance to practice some of those skills. And I think a lot of that falls into the area of executive functioning, which really does need to be intentionally taught to kids, and they need opportunities to practice,” Brinnel said. “Without that practice, we’re seeing kids show up looking a little different in kindergarten than they did a couple years ago.”

The statewide decline in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten enrollment by about 8,000 students for the 2020-21 school year accounts for more than half of the drop in statewide enrollment for all grades, the state report said.

Brinnel said other factors, including parents opting to home-school their children, also contribute to the enrollment decline.

“While school districts are required to offer kindergarten, parents aren’t required to send them until they’re 7. So that’s part of it,” she said.

Some parents have also continued to express concerns about having their children return to in-person schooling amid rising COVID cases, while others worry about the potential for another mask mandate.

Irene Parisi, chief academic officer at the state Department of Education, said those are all real concerns.

“This is why the department has worked so hard with school districts, as well as other state agencies, to understand what are the best mitigating strategies, what resources might be needed and what’s the best guidance to support parents with those decisions,” she said.

“It’s important to understand the importance of having students learn in person,” Parisi said. “At the same time, we ask what we can do to make them feel safe and learn with confidence.”

Learn more
Explore COVID-19’s effects on kindergarten, early childhood and learning as part of the Connecticut Public documentary “Cutline: COVID to Kindergarten” – it airs May 19 at 8 p.m. on CPTV or you can watch online.

Catherine is the Host of Connecticut Public’s morning talk show and podcast, Where We Live. Catherine and the WWL team focus on going beyond the headlines to bring in meaningful conversations that put Connecticut in context.

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