Chicago Public Schools appears to have lost its title as the nation’s third-largest school district, with enrollment falling for the 11th consecutive year, according to data released Wednesday.
CPS is reporting enrollment of 322,106 students, down 2.5% from 330,411 students the last school year. A decade ago, there were about 403,000 CPS students. The district noted 20,000 fewer students — about 10% — in district-run elementary schools compared with two years ago, while enrollment in district-run and charter high schools has remained steady.
“Our enrollment numbers reflect many changes, including declining birthrates, but they also present us with an opportunity to review our practices and to ensure that we’re providing the best programming and services to our students,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said at Wednesday’s monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting.
Funding of CPS schools is partially based on per-student enrollment. Numbers from this year will be used to determine school budgets for next year. The district’s overall budget for this year is $9.4 billion, up from $9.3 billion last year, despite declining enrollment.
Both budgets were backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money that is due to expire in fall 2024.
The district said more students dropped out or did not arrive to school as expected compared with last year. CPS leaders said Wednesday that home visits and interventions at the school level are some of the tools the district uses to stop kids from dropping out.
CPS data also shows fewer students transferred to a school outside of Chicago or to a Chicago private school versus last year, and fewer students left the district to be home-schooled this year. That decrease may be tied to some parents having wanted to keep their kids at home because of the coronavirus last year, CPS’ first year of full-time, in-person learning during the pandemic. This year, CPS relaxed the requirements for entry into its virtual academy.
“This data … is more of a return to the patterns we saw before the pandemic,” said Sara Kempner, executive director of enterprise data strategy for CPS. “The past two years have seen dramatic swings in the reasons why students are leaving the district. But in reviewing this year’s data we are seeing trends more in line with what we saw in school year 2018 and school year 2019.”
Public school enrollment has been declining across the country, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida, however, is reporting an increase of about 4,800 students from last year, to 324,961 students as of Sept. 1, now making it the nation’s third-largest district behind New York and Los Angeles, respectively, based on a Tribune review of enrollment data.
The Archdiocese of Chicago, meanwhile, expects enrollment to “hold fairly steady” across its 155 schools compared with last year, according to archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Thomas. She noted new students continue to enroll, and the numbers are not final yet.
CPS enrollment is recorded on the 20th day of school, which began a week earlier than usual this year for the earliest school start in recent history. Nevertheless, CPS said the first-day attendance rate ticked up slightly this year to 93%. The four-week attendance rate is just under 92%, up a percentage point from a year ago, according to district data.
The figures cover more than 600 schools, which include district-run, charter and contract schools.
The racial makeup of the district has not changed much over the last few years, with nearly 47% of students identifying as Latino, nearly 36% Black, 11% white and 4% Asian.
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The district noted the community areas that recorded the largest enrollment decreases over the last four years are West Elsdon on the Southwest Side, a decline of a third; West Garfield Park on the West Side, at 32%; and Auburn Gresham on the South Side, 29%. The community areas that saw the largest increases are Clearing on the Southwest Side, at 38%, which CPS attributes to the new facility for John Hancock College Prep; Chatham on the South Side at 16%; and the area near O’Hare International Airport at 12%.
From last year to this year, CPS saw gains in the number of 3-year-old preschoolers and 4-year-old pre-kindergarteners enrolled, while the elementary school declines are most notable in fifth and seventh grades.
Board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland warned the district that a comprehensive plan is needed to stem further enrollment losses.
“This continues to be the major issue for our district,” Todd-Breland said.
The enrollment numbers were announced as the Chicago Teachers Union released its equity study calling for each school to have a nurse, social worker, librarian, art and music educators, robust athletics programs, a transformative curriculum and trauma support.
“Join us in partnership, working together with the shared commitment to support the students and families. We can bring this school district what we have long been denied, real equity for every child, particularly Black and brown schoolchildren who continue to be denied the basic equity they deserve and desperately need,” Christel Williams-Hayes, CTU’s recording secretary, told the board Wednesday.
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