As Minnesota children head back to school in the fall, school leaders will be facing a number of challenges, from staffing shortages, to managing learning loss following remote learning, to handling the ongoing health risks of the pandemic. But several of the challenges facing traditional public schools, in particular, pre-date the pandemic, including demographic change and the changing educational landscape that brings more competition for a smaller student pool.
ABOUT THE DATA
This article looks at three types of schools, which we identify in the following way:
- Traditional public schools, also known as primary school districts;
- Charter schools, which are public schools that operate independently from the local primary school district; and
- Private schools, which are privately funded and operated.
In this article, for data sources that break out traditional public and public charter schools, we use all three groupings. For other data sources, we group traditional public schools and charter schools together into “public schools.”
1. Declining birthrates mean fewer students
U.S. birthrates have been falling for years, but especially dipped during the pandemic. The number of babies born has been falling every year since 2015 and Minnesota had about 3,000 fewer school-age children in 2021 compared to 2020.
Given the current age makeup of Minnesota’s young children, there are expected to be about 10,000 fewer entering kindergarteners in 2026 than there were in 2021. Fewer school-age children mean a smaller pool of available students, which, with funding tied to enrollment, could mean budget challenges for Minnesota’s public schools in coming years.
2. Charter and private schools compete with traditional public schools
An additional challenge for traditional public schools is increasing competition from charter and private schools. From the 2018-2019 to 2021-2022 school years, traditional public schools in Minnesota lost about 23,000 students, while both private and charter schools gained enrollment. Both the metro area and greater Minnesota saw the same pattern, although it was more pronounced in the Twin Cities.
3. Traditional public schools are more racially diverse than charter and private schools
As in the rest of the country, Minnesota private school students are wealthier and whiter than their traditional public school counterparts. Non-Hispanic White students attend Minnesota private schools at nearly twice the rate of Minnesota students of color, with more than 1 in 10 White students in Minnesota attending a private school.
Private school students also come from higher-income households, with about 10% of private school students qualifying for free or reduced price lunches, compared to 30% of public school students (both traditional and charter).
Charter schools enroll a slightly higher percentage of students of color compared to traditional public schools in the same region. However, charter schools also tend to be more racially segregated, with nearly half of charter school students attending a school where the student body is at least 80% students of one race, compared to 32% of traditional public school students.
4. Minnesota has a strong public education system
Minnesota has historically had a robust public school system compared to the nation as a whole. In particular, higher-income families are more likely to send their children to public schools (both traditional and charter), with 90% of households earning more than the national median income choosing public schools, compared to 86% nationwide.
Minnesota takes pride in its public education system, and strong schools are an important factor in attracting and retaining our state’s residents. As school systems nationwide navigate a changing demographic and educational landscape, the ability of Minnesota schools to adapt and innovate will be a major driver of quality of life for Minnesota’s communities and families.
For more information on education and youth demographics in Minnesota check out our key measures:
K-12 education outcomes: https://www.mncompass.org/topics/quality-of-life/education
Young children: https://www.mncompass.org/topics/demographics/age/young-children
School-age children: https://www.mncompass.org/topics/demographics/age/school-age-children
Youth population trends: https://www.mncompass.org/topics/demographics/age/all-children?population-trends