America’s missing kids: Amid COVID and online school, thousands of students haven’t shown up

Before life went sideways in March, Jennifer Ludtke and her daughters were deeply rooted in the public schools in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ludtke was a principal of a charter high school and had previously worked in the Clark County School District, and her daughters took advanced classes at a district middle school.

But this year, after a lot of research about COVID-19 and schooling options, and after the district announced it was starting virtually, Ludtke withdrew the girls and enrolled them in a state college that offers online classes. They’re earning both college and high school credit in English and math. (Because the girls are only 12 and 13, the college administrators asked to interview them first — then offered them a grant toward tuition.)

Ludtke herself resigned from her principal role and stepped back to teaching, which leaves her time to homeschool her daughters in their other necessary subjects, such as social studies and physical education. The girls hadn’t learned much in the spring when Clark County moved to remote instruction, she said, and the combination of college classes and homeschooling seemed to be the most rigorous option.

The upshot: The girls are learning, but they’re no longer enrolled in any school district.

As parents nationwide tread through a wildly different education landscape this year, many, like the Ludtke sisters, are disappearing from the rosters of their local public schools. Clark County schools are down about 10,000 students this year, a loss that will translate into a reduction of about $61 million from the state of Nevada, though the impact won’t be felt right away.

It’s a similar story in many other large districts that started the year with all children learning virtually: Dallas, Austin, Los AngelesNashville, Miami and Broward County schools in Florida are all reporting enrollment declines and missing large swaths of children in the youngest grades.

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