Duluth Public Schools is hopeful the state and Minnesota Legislature will be able to help them and other schools across the state that are dealing with a loss of enrollment due to COVID-19.

The human resources/business committee discussed the district’s legislative platform for 2021 Tuesday. The second item on the list, after special education funding, is asking the Legislature to support allowing the state to use the 2019-20 enrollment as the basis for funding formulas for the 2021-22 school year.

Jeff Anderson, one of the district’s hired lobbyists, said districts across the state are dealing with students disappearing from the rolls due to COVID-19.

“This is simply asking the state to take that into consideration as we move forward, and not to penalize schools, and to use those enrollment numbers from 2019-20 as a floor moving forward,” Anderson said.

As of January, the average daily membership is projected to be down by 367.05 across the district for the 2020-21 school year. The average daily membership is used to compute each district’s final aid entitlements paid to the district.

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With the end of the first semester coming Jan. 21, it is likely enrollment will continue to decrease as students graduate early or take more postsecondary enrollment options. The district does not receive funding for students enrolled in only postsecondary classes, and they are not counted in the average daily membership.

District CFO Cathy Erickson said more students are home schooling this year due to COVID-19.

“At the end of last year, we had approximately 200 students who were home schooling. This year we had 434 students,” Erickson said.

Erickson said enrollment loss at the elementary level is leveling off and she hopes elementary students moving back to full in-person instruction might bring students back up.

Erickson said the district is forming a budget for the 2021-22 school year around the realities the district is facing now and not what they hope to receive as relief or aid from the state Legislature. Next year’s budget will be based on what the district is seeing enrollment-wise.

“We will have to think through what our enrollment looks like and if we think this will just be temporary or if it’s a trend that we need to consider going into next year and plan for,” Erickson said. “So much of our budget is based on enrollment as well as staffing buildings and other strategic planning issues.”