A high school student in Brooklyn enters the building on the first day of the 2021-2022 school year. Enrollment this year dropped nearly 2% according to preliminary city data. Photo by Gabby Jones / Chalkbeat
Enrollment in the country’s largest school system has fallen about 1.9% this school year, according to preliminary figures released Friday by the education department.
Approximately 938,000 students are enrolled in New York City’s public schools, down from about 955,000 last school year, when the system experienced a significant decline related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Falling birth rates play a role, a spokesman for the department said. Some families have left the five boroughs and have chosen charter schools, private schools or home schools, although officials did not provide data revealing the extent to which these factors may affect enrollment change.
The city’s elementary schools have fired students well in advance of the pandemic. The drop last school year, however, was much more marked, with enrollment falling by 4.7%. Overall, the city’s district schools now have 6.4%, or about 64,000, fewer students compared to the 2019-2020 school year, when the pandemic started.
Enrollment in charter schools has increased 3.2% this school year and is now at 143,000, or about 13% of the city’s primary school students. Although the ceiling for the number of charter schools that can open in New York City has been reached, schools can still phase in additional grade levels that have already been approved.
Enrollment trends are of great importance at the school level, because the majority of school budgets are allocated per. student. If a school enrolls fewer students than the city expected, they may be forced to return funding, a practice that generated excessive criticism last school year when some schools owed hundreds of thousands of dollars.
City officials ended up allowing schools to keep the funding they owed, and that policy will continue this school year, officials said.
School systems across the country have also seen a drop in enrollment this year, including nearly 6% in Los Angeles and 3% in Chicago, the country’s second-largest and third-largest districts.
“As the country’s largest school district, we have been affected by the nationwide fluctuation in enrollment that affected schools across the country, and these data show that enrollment is stabilizing as we continue our city’s incredible improvement,” said a spokesman for the education department, Katie O’Hanlon. in a statement.
Last school year saw the largest enrollment declines among the city’s youngest students, repeating trends in districts across the country, as some families may have been reluctant to rely on virtual learning for young children or were nervous about sending their unvaccinated children to school in the middle of a pandemic. This year, enrollment in kindergarten for 4-year-olds remained stable but is still below the pre-pandemic level, department officials said at a city council hearing this week.
With an influx of federal dollars, city officials have expanded their pre-K offerings to 3-year-olds, leading to an overall preschool increase of about 28%. In kindergarten, the year education becomes mandatory, enrollment fell 9% last year. Officials did not immediately provide a degree-by-degree breakdown for the latest data.
For weeks, elected officials have been pushing the education department for enrollment numbers and a clear account of how many students do not regularly attend school.
Parents are now required to send their children to school in person, but some have resisted citing the ongoing pandemic and skepticism about the city’s safety protocols in schools.
The figures released Friday do not give an accurate indication of how many students have left school or are chronically absent even though they continue to live in the city. Officials said the average daily attendance to date is 89%, although they did not immediately say how it compares to the same period in previous years.
Although individual school budgets will not be affected if their enrollment falls, a significant dropout rate could ultimately pose a threat, as district officials have closed schools that they conclude are too small to be sustainable.
At the district level, declining enrollments can affect funding levels even though the department’s budget has grown, even though the number of students enrolled in district schools has shrunk.
And the immediate budget outlook is far more rosy than many predicted when the pandemic hit: the city is floating with nearly $ 7 billion in federal dollars for corona aid, and government officials have also promised to increase funding for schools.
Chalkbeat is a non-profit news site covering educational changes in public schools.