Chicago Has 11,000 Fewer Public School Students

Harper High School’s Big Gamble
Harper High School (Photo courtesy of Chicago Public Schools Archives)
Harper High School’s Big Gamble
Harper High School (Photo courtesy of Chicago Public Schools Archives)

Chicago Has 11,000 Fewer Public School Students

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There are 11,000 fewer students enrolled in the city’s public schools than there were last year, according to official numbers released by the district Friday. 

It’s the most dramatic year-over-year decline since at least 2000, which is the oldest year comparable data is available.

The new numbers show there are 381,349 students enrolled in preschool through 12th grade across Chicago Public Schools, down from 392,285 last year. 

Nearly every type of school saw declining enrollment, including charter schools and alternative schools, many of which are run by private entities. Until this year, both charters and alternative schools had growing enrollment even as the total number of students in the district shrunk. 

The parent group Raise Your Hand took a closer look at a group of roughly 50 schools that were designated to accept students from schools that closed in 2013. They found even steeper enrollment loss than the rest of the district. 

“Receiving school enrollment dropped by 8.1 percent, while other elementary schools dropped by 2.8 percent,” said Jennie Biggs, a mother who belongs to Raise Your Hand. 

Biggs spoke at a meeting of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force Friday. She said she doesn’t know exactly why the designated receiving schools lost so many students.

“It would be fascinating if we could find out where all these people are and what their stories are,” she said. “I think that’s a big unheard in this city that would be really valuable.”

CPS Chief of Strategy Todd Babbitz pointed out that many of the closings happened in neighborhoods that had been losing people in general for more than a decade, so officials expected the remaining schools might continue losing children. 

But he admitted the city does need to keep an eye on those trends. 

In releasing the enrollment numbers, district officials announced they distributed an additional $12.8 million to 116 schools struggling with enrollment. It’s not clear where the extra money is coming from. 

Among the schools getting extra money were dozens of the district’s traditional neighborhood high schools. 

Because school budgets are directly tied to enrollment, many of these high schools would struggle to offer basic graduation requirements without additional money. 

WBEZ first documented the dramatic enrollment declines in high schools in 2013 and the numbers have only gotten worse. 

Last year, one high school had just 13 freshman enroll. The freshmen class is typically the largest class in a high school. This year, that school, Austin Business & Entrepreneurship High School merged with two others in the same building. The merged school, VOISE High School, has 57 freshman and received an additional $371,337 in support from CPS, according to the data released Friday.

This year, two dozen high schools in CPS have fewer than 75 freshmen. One of them, TEAM Englewood, has 15 children enrolled in 9th grade, according to the district’s data. Data show the schools with the most severe under enrollment are in the city’s Austin and Englewood neighborhoods. 

Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @wbezeducation.