Hundreds of thousands of school age students went missing from the public school rolls during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and have not been accounted for since.
A study by the Associated Press and Stanford University found that about 240,000 students across 21 states could not be accounted for in any school in the country.
Enrollment at U.S. public schools fell overall by 710,000 between the 2019-2022 school years. Those who could be counted had enrolled in private schools, others were homeschooled, and the remaining students moved.
During the height of the pandemic, school districts across the country went door-to-door in an attempt to re-engage students, but with schools having largely reopened full time, those efforts have diminished.
"This is leading evidence that tells us we need to be looking more carefully at the kids who are no longer in public schools," Thomas Dee, Stanford education professor, told the AP.
In the case of some of the unaccounted children, some families still fear COVID-19 and have kept their children out of public schools. Others left the country, and still there were those who have not returned because of homelessness.
The biggest concern now according to the study is the impact on children who have missed so much critical learning time — a large portion of whom were already struggling academically.