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Enrollment at AZ public schools fell during COVID-19. There are now signs of improvement.

Arizona K-12 public schools and community colleges experienced drops in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials say they are seeing signs of recovery. 

During the 2020-21 school year, enrollment at K-12 public schools fell by almost 39,000 students, according to the Arizona Department of Education. More than 40% of those lost students were preschool and kindergarten age.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman expressed optimism in preliminary enrollment numbers for this school year during a Tuesday webinar  by the Arizona Capitol Times.

"I am pleased to say that we are seeing a strong showing of our kindergarten students in this new school year," she said. 

In addition, Hoffman said she's also encouraged by the line of parents she’s seen at public schools to enroll their children. 

Arizona Department of Education told KJZZ that it expects to release statewide preliminary enrollment numbers on Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, overall enrollment at the state's community college is not yet where it should be, said Chris Bustamante, the executive director of the Arizona Community College Coordinating Council.

Enrollment at the Maricopa and Pima community college systems is down by 17% and 19% respectively, he said. But Bustamante is seeing improvements at other institutions. 

“Most of the rural colleges are in a different situation. They’re up in enrollment from last fall with a few even surpassing fall 2019 levels," Bustamante said. 

Incentive programs funded through federal COVID-19 relief dollars to encourage students to come back to college have yielded positive results, he added. Arizona Western College in Yuma, for example, is allowing students to repeat courses that they failed during the pandemic for free. Five hundred Arizona Western College students are taking advantage of that opportunity this fall, he said. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: KJZZ is licensed to the Maricopa County Community College District. 

Rocio Hernandez was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2022.