Bruce Emmerling via Wikimedia Commons

Richmond City Public Schools are facing an enrollment crisis that’s nothing short of apocalyptic.

The Virginia Department of Education reports that the district experienced a 25% enrollment drop since last year.

The decline occurred among all racial and socioeconomic groups. However, Asian student enrollment fell most dramatically—by 64%!

Bacon’s Rebellion reports on the unmitigated disaster facing thousands of Richmond’s students:

Statewide, public school enrollment numbers showed no recovery from the terrible COVID-plagued year of 2019/20, but at least they held stable. Likewise, enrollment was little changed in neighboring counties, with the numbers up marginally in Chesterfield and down slightly in Henrico. Richmond stands out for the magnitude of enrollment losses.

Richmond school leadership seems curiously disconnected from the enrollment meltdown. I searched in vain in School Board agendas and presentations for any mention of the enrollment decline. Judging by media accounts, the main preoccupation of school officials is students’ catastrophic performance in the Virginia Growth Assessments (VGAs), which indicate that only 35% of students in grades 3 through 8 are on track to meet minimum standards for reading proficiency and 10% for math.

In theory, a collapse in enrollment would have a devastating impact on finances. About 44% of RPS revenue comes from the state, and is mostly based on enrollment counts — a Sept. 30 fall membership and a March 31 average daily membership. If the commonwealth slashed its state aid by 25%, in line with the enrollment decline, Richmond schools would lose $40 million out of its $360 million budget. Such a loss would be so disruptive that there must be an explanation, of which I am ignorant, as to why school officials are not panicking. Perhaps they are counting on federal COVID-relief dollars.

“Crisis” is too mild a word to describe what is happening. Taking the enrollment numbers and the VGA numbers together yields a picture of a school system in a runaway meltdown. While leaders have amplified talk about systemic racism and a commitment to social justice, the system is failing more spectacularly than ever in its core mission of educating students. When confronted with the stark reality that students are falling further and further behind academically, parents with the means to do so are yanking their kids out of the school system. The racial divide in educational achievement is getting worse — at an accelerating rate.