Arlington’s first-day-of-school count, while up from a year ago, remains below the pre-pandemic high of 2019, suggesting some students whose families pulled them out of the public-school system will not be coming back.
Superintendent Francisco Durán on Sept. 8 reported a first-day-of-class enrollment of 27,524, up 613 students from last year’s official count of 26,911. That official tally, reported to state officials, is taken Sept. 30 each year and usually ends up higher than the first-day-of-class count of several weeks before.
But comparing 2022’s first-day count to the comparable first-day figure of 2019, before COVID appeared, results in a decline of more than 450 students. The first-day count in 2019 was 27,996.
Arlington’s student population peaked in 1963 at the height of the Baby Boom, then descended until the 1990s before another uptick began. The 1963 record attendance was surpassed in 2017 and again in 2018 and 2019.
In the pre-COVID era, school officials had projected enrollment ultimately growing to more than 30,000 students before it began to level off, but even before the pandemic sent some parents taking their students to private/parochial schools, home-schooling or other communities, that growth projection already was being scaled back.
What may further upend projections is the likely implementation of the county government’s “Missing Middle” zoning changes, which if enacted will open up with swaths of the county to more intense development – perhaps as many as eight houses on lots currently limited to one.
County staff have downplayed the potential impact of upzoning on student enrollment and its related impact (at roughly $20,000 per student) on the school system’s budget and homeowners’ resulting tax bills.