Preschool enrollment drops in Horry County and across South Carolina

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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) —Preschool enrollment is dropping in Horry County and across the state following the pandemic, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Education. 

There are nearly 10,000 fewer children enrolled in preschools in South Carolina for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Before the pandemic, the 2019 statewide headcount for South Carolina preschoolers was 29,165 students. The most recent 2020-2021 headcount reports 21,002 enrolled in preschool. 

Preschool teachers and education leaders say the decline could be the result of a few things. 

One possibility could be families waiting to see how public schools handle the return to classrooms in the fall before deciding to enroll. 

The other could be the result of more families switching to private schools, homeschooling, or another alternative. 

Jennifer Roberts is a Grand Strand childcare and preschool director at a new facility called Learn N Play. 

Roberts says parents need to remember having children in a preschool setting or group environment helps their development significantly. 

“One thing that’s always stuck with me when getting my degree was said by one of my teachers… that children’s brains from birth to five are like sponges, they can hold a lot of information and learn a lot,” Roberts said. 

Public school districts K-12 are not alone when it comes to a teacher shortage. 

Preschool and childcare licensed professionals also say there are not enough teachers wanting to work right now. That’s another factor that could be weighing into the enrollment drop.

Pre-K teacher shortages mean less ability to enroll students. The Department of Social Services (DSS) requires teachers to follow a strict student-to-teacher ratio. 

Child’s AgeStaff:Child Ratio
Birth to one year1:5
One to two years1:6
Two to three years1:8
Three to four years1:12
Four to five years1:17
Five to six years1:20
Six to twelve years1:23

“That’s why a lot of centers I feel have waiting lists because we have to abide by DSS ratio regulations, and if we don’t have the teachers there, we can’t accept the children,” Roberts said. 

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