Interior of classroom in elementary school

Interior of classroom in elementary school. Row of empty desks are in illuminated room.

Nearly 30,000 fewer students enrolled in Colorado's public school system this year compared to 2019, the first year-over-year decline since the end of President Ronald Reagan's administration.

The drop represents a 3.3% decrease in enrollment for a school system of more than 883,000 students.

The state Department of Education said in the announcement that the drop was "due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic."

The data is still somewhat preliminary; the agency said it was releasing figures early because of "intense interest." The finalized data will be confirmed in January.

Colorado's youngest grade levels represented the bulk of the drop.

More than 8,000 fewer preschool students enrolled in 2020 compared to 2019, for a decline of 23.3%.

There were also nearly 5,800 fewer kindergarteners this year, for a 9.1% drop.

Further losses were felt for enrollment between first- and fifth-graders. Roughly 13,802 fewer students enrolled for those elementary grades, a 4.2% difference.

Of the state's 178 school districts, roughly 141 reported enrollment declines.

Denver Public Schools' enrollment fell by 3.3%, or 3,051 students.

Officials in the district said earlier this year that they were anticipating a decline and that it would primarily be felt by the youngest grade levels.

Jim Carpenter, the district's chief financial officer, told the Denver Gazette last month that 50 percent more students had left DPS for private schools than in previous years. 

Jefferson County's enrollment fell 4.7%, Douglas County was down 6.4%, Aurora dropped 5.5%, Adams 12 dipped by 5.2% and Cherry Creek declined by 3.6%.

Westminster's enrollment decreased by 7.73% and Littleton slipped 5.55%.

Districts' losing students has an impact on schools' coffers. Carpenter, the DPS financial administrator, said the Denver school system stood to lose several millions dollars because of the declining enrollment trends.

According to the state, nearly 16,900 fewer students qualified for free-and-reduced lunches this year compared to 2019.

That number might be inaccurate because all students have qualified for this year because of COVID and because "some students were in a remote learning environment during the first part of the school year."

There were fewer Native American students and fewer Black, Asian, Hispanic and white students than in 2019.

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