A new study shows school districts that began the year with virtual education lost more students than districts that began the year with in-person education.

The study, “Opting Out: Enrollment Trends in Response to Continued Public School Shutdowns” by Will Flanders with the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), said, “Districts with exclusively virtual education saw a 3% decline in enrollment on average relative to other districts in the state.”

School enrollment is down overall as parents deal with difficult choices during the Covid-19 pandemic. On average, according to the study, school districts saw a 2.67% decline in enrollment this year. In previous years the drop was 0.3%.

“Everyone has had to make adjustments due to the pandemic. But the decision of many teachers’ unions to oppose any attempt at in-person learning appears to have consequences,” Flanders said about the study. “Many Wisconsin families have opted out of schools that are not even trying to accommodate in-person learning.”

There were schools that did see an increase in enrollment, virtual charter schools and parental choice schools.

Virtual charter schools, or online charter schools, are public charter schools that are set up for online learning. The 44 school districts with online charter schools, with teachers trained to teach online, saw an increase in enrollment of approximately 4.5% on average compared to other districts.

The Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families (WCVSF) said in a statement online that it’s because of the differences between virtual education at traditional schools compared to online charter schools.

“Yes, because there is a HUGE difference between schools built from the beginning to meet students’ needs and help them excel online and patchwork plans that have a child log on to a zoom session,” said the WCVSF. “Kudos to lawmakers/school districts who trust parents with options!”

Parental choice schools are schools participating in the state’s school voucher programs. They saw an increase in enrollment by more than 2,700 students while public schools overall saw a decline in enrollment of nearly 36,000 students.