While Wisconsin schools reported overall slowdowns or declines in enrollment, particularly in 4K, the Milton School District enrollment held steady and increased in 4K/early childhood special education. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released fall student counts on Oct. 15.
Wisconsin’s school district headcount for the third Friday of September 2020 was 818,922, a decline of 3 percent from September 2019. According to DPI, the statewide September 2020 district headcount was led by a decline of 15.8 percent in 4K and early childhood special education.
In the Milton School District, the total headcount was 3,477, up 60 (or 1.6 percent) from the prior year, and the 4K/early childhood special education headcount increased by 6.8 percent to 204.
“In that headcount, we can have children that don’t live here,” said Carey Bradley, Milton School District director of business services. “They could be participating in open enrollment and coming in. They could be part of a cooperative program (like MECAS). When they’re talking about headcount, they’re usually talking about enrollment (participating in Milton’s educational programs and schools).”
Virtual 4K and other considerations
Director of Student Services Susan Probst said prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Milton would see more students open enroll to other school districts for 4K, then return to Milton for kindergarten.
According to Probst, one theory is 4K students were attending a 4K program near their parent’s place of employment.
Daycare factored into the 4K decision, added 4K administrator Jen Cramer.
This year, Cramer said it’s possible that parents might be at home and not need daycare.
Virtual learning, offered as an option because of the pandemic, might have made 4K more accessible for some families, Cramer said. Because the virtual learning is not synchronous (taking place at the same time that the teacher teaching), parents can help with learning on evenings and weekends – or whenever.
On Monday, Cramer said the Milton School District had 136 4K students learning in-person and 51 4K students learning virtually.
In-person learners go to school in mornings or afternoons Tuesday through Friday.
Students learning virtually are given activities to do with an adult at home on a daily basis. The digital learning platform for 4K-Grade 3 is Seesaw, but not all materials are virtual. Cramer said packets are available to help students work on fine motor skills and to promote social and emotional learning.
Teachers in 4K provide both virtual and classroom instruction. That’s different than in K-3, where teachers do one or the other.
Starting Week 8 of the school year, Cramer, who also is principal of Milton East Elementary, said, “We’re continuing to see (at East) that people are coming here. They want their children to be in school face to face.”
Virtual 4K families, too, have demonstrated interest in advancing their child’s education. According to Cramer, every family that chose virtual learning signed up for a baseline learning assessment last Friday.
Early childhood special education
The Milton School District also is seeing an increase in special education for 3 and 4 year olds, sometimes referred to as early childhood.
According to Probst, most of the students come from the county’s Birth to 3 Program, a federally mandated early intervention program to support families of children with developmental delays or disabilities.
“Birth to 3 mentioned that we would have a couple of years of high numbers,” she said. “We are in the middle of that.”
For 2020-21, Probst said the district added a part-time early childhood teacher. Two other teachers devote time to early childhood. One is full-time early childhood, the other is part-time early childhood and part-time K-3.
At the start of the school year, Probst said early childhood numbers often are in the single digits.
“These students have very unique programming,” she said, “and many times, it’s one-on-one programming.”
Children might work with a speech pathologist, occupational therapist or physical therapist.
Throughout the year, children have birthdays and turn 3.
“As they qualify for services, we add them,” Probst said. By the end of the school year, she said the number of children in early childhood is usually in the teens and, depending on the progress they have made, they graduate to 4K or K.
This school year, the third Friday count for early childhood was 18.
“Our special ed numbers are higher to start the year,” Probst said.
School buildings being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic created a backlog, which she said contributed to the higher numbers.
“We couldn’t do any referrals in March, April or May (for Sept. and Oct.),” she said.
Virtual evaluations can be done with older kids but, Probst said doing an accurate evaluation with a 2 and a half year old is almost impossible virtually.
As these students get older, the number of them who are in special education will likely change.
“Sometimes when we intervene early (like at the age of 3) and with the right supports,” she said, “Some children can actually learn enough that before third grade, they’re dismissed from special education.”
“People sometimes think once you’re in special education, you’re always in special education,” she said. “That’s not necessarily the case.”
Statewide, the kindergarten headcount declined 4.9 percent, while first through 12th grades —where Wisconsin’s mandatory school attendance laws apply — were down 1.9 percent.
In Milton, the kindergarten headcount was 239, down about 3 percent, and the first-12th grade headcount was 3,034, up about 2 percent.
Charter and private schools
Independent charter schools reported a total third Friday of September 2020 headcount of 9,257, an increase of 1.6 percent from September 2019. The previous increase, from 2018 to 2019, was 2.8 percent. The 4K headcount was down by 16.7 percent and kindergarten by 0.1 percent, while first through 12th grades increased by 3.9 percent.
The state’s four private school parental choice programs reported a combined third Friday of September 2020 headcount of 45,954. This was an increase of 5.9 percent over 2019, smaller than the increase from 2018 to 2019 of 8.3 percent. 4K headcount in the private school parental choice programs declined by 3.5 percent, kindergarten increased by 5.1 percent, and grades 1-12 were up by 6.7 percent.
A more complete picture of fall 2020 student enrollment will be available in November, because homeschool families and statewide private school enrollments have later reporting deadlines.