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, 2003, there were 309,390 public school students in the region. By September 30, 2019 student enrollment had increased to 423,670. The latest three years, 2020 to 2023 fall student enrollments 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, with a drop of 16,413. Enrollment dropped slightly further by fall 2021, with a drop of 626. These decreases 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. By fall of 2022 students that were home-school or attended private school during the peak of COVID-19 started to return to public schools and a Northern Virginia population rebound was underway. The 2022 fall enrollment was 4,081 higher than the prior year.
The Washington region is forecasted to have much population growth in the next few decades, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG). A significant amount of that growth is forecasted to be in Northern Virginia. A multitude of variables alter student enrollment trends, 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. 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.
Students enrolled in the Northern Virginia region's public schools comprised 15.9% of the region's population in 2003. The share of the region’s population trended upward through 2019 to reach 16.7%. In 2020 it had dropped to 16.0% and remained at 16.0% in 2021 and increased slightly to 16.1% by 2022. The lower shares since 2019 can be attributed to the impacts of COVID-19 when at-home and private schooling accelerated in the region, and out-migration of young-adults with children was occurring at a much greater rate than in normal times.