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Maine public school enrollment is up this year — but still below pre-pandemic levels

The number of public school students in Maine has risen slightly this year, but enrollment is still far below numbers from before the pandemic.

That's according to data recently released by the Maine Department of Education. According to the agency, Maine schools enrolled nearly 173,907 public school students last fall — an increase of about 700 students from a year before, but still down about 4% from before the pandemic.

Steve Bailey, the executive director of the Maine School Management Association, said that while the numbers statewide are still down, some areas along the coast, and even in Aroostook County, have seen steady or increasing enrollment as more families moved to Maine during the pandemic.

"Some of those folks have stayed. Others haven't," Bailey said. "We've also seen a shift to homeschooling. And we do believe that some of those have not returned."

Eileen King, the executive director of the Maine School Superintendents Association, said that the drop in enrollment since the pandemic began, combined with several other factors, has put some districts in a difficult financial position.

King said that property values are up significantly in many towns, leading to a reduction in state aid.

"These towns are towns that don't have centers, don't have businesses," King said. "Don't have much revenue to come in. And they don't have the ability to pay more towards education."

Gov. Janet Mills has proposed spending $101 million as part of her upcoming biennial budget proposal for the state to maintain paying 55% of education costs.

While fewer students are being reported in some older grades, the state has seen a steady increase in public pre-K students as more districts have opened or expanded their programs.