Key Facts Public School Student Enrollment Overall
With the explosive growth in total population in the Northern Virginia region has come substantial student enrollment growth in the region's public elementary, middle, and high schools. On September 30, 2004, there were 315,898 public school students in the region. By September 30, 2019 student enrollment had increased to 423,670. The latest two years, 2020 and 2021 have been a different story due to the impacts of COVID-19. In fall 2020 school enrollment dropped in the region for the first time since at least 2003. School enrollment dropped 16,413 between September 2019 to September 2020 and another 626 by September 2021. This decrease can be largely attributed to public school students transferring to at-home schooling and private schools. It can also be attributed to the overall decline in the region's population from mid-2020 to mid-2021.
The region forecasts growth to return after the COVID-19 pandemic's impact subsides. With growth comes challenges in maintaining the high quality of education and school facilities in the region. To maintain the high quality of education, planning and acquiring land or buildings for school sites to accommodate future growth is vitally important, but has been increasingly challenging in this region with quickly diminishing land supply.
Northern Virginia has a transient population. A multitude of variables alter enrollment levels, including new development, transfers to and from private schools, in and out migration rates, and changing size and composition of families in existing housing stock. Pre-Covid-19 pandemic, the region had an annual growth in students of 5,256 between fall 2018 and fall 2019, which was below the average from 2004 to 2019 but well above the growth rate of the period from fall 2017 to fall 2018. The region saw a significantly lower amount of growth in students between fall 2017 and fall 2018. Loudoun and Prince William both had growth, but significantly less than their recent past. Falls Church City and Manassas City saw small amounts of decline, whereas Fairfax County had a sizable decline that caused the absolute growth of the region to be small. Fairfax experienced its first decline in growth in over a decade. According to the Fairfax County Public Schools, Membership Analysis and Trends Report, published in December 2018, the primary reason for Fairfax's decline was that out migration of students was greater than in migration of students. Fairfax had not experienced a negative student migration since at least 2010. The Hispanic and Native American race/ethnic groups are the only groups in Fairfax that had a greater out migration than in-migration, with pretty much all of the negative migration being attributed to Hispanics. This out-migration of Hispanics may have been correlated with the decline in non-citizen foreign born populations that the region and nation experienced between 2017 and 2018. See the "people" dashboard for more information.
Students enrolled in the Northern Virginia region's public schools comprised 15.9% of the region's population in 2004. This share of the region’s population has steadily increased through 2019 to 16.7%. In 2020 it had dropped to 16.0% and remained at 16.0% in 2021. The decrease in 2020 can be attributed to the impacts of COVID-19 when at-home and private schooling accelerated in the region.