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Chicago's Latino High Schools Face Big Drops In Enrollment — and Funding

Enrollment at Chicago Public Schools has been dropping for years, with particularly steep declines at the city’s predominantly-black neighborhood high schools. CPS has predicted that trend will continue, but numbers released by CPS this week also indicate the district expects large declines at schools with mostly Latino students.

Enrollment declines are watched closely because fewer students mean fewer dollars for the schools. Of Chicago’s 95 high schools, 45 are projected to lose enrollment — and money — this fall.

Among the ten schools where enrollment is projected to decline the most, seven are majority-Latino schools. The new numbers are a surprising development given the steady growth in the school district’s Latino population over the last decade.

The seven predominantly-Latino schools — Kelly, Schurz, Foreman, Roosevelt, Steinmetz, Kelvyn Park and Farragut — mostly dot the city’s Northwest and Southwest side. On average, each is projected to lose about $800,000 from their budgets.

Like the majority-black high schools, some of the attrition is from birthrate decline or families moving out of the city. Overall, the population at mostly-black high schools is projected to decrease by more than 1,000 students, about 5 percent, from last year.

Overall, mostly-Latino high schools are projected to lose about 750 students. That translates to roughly a 2 percent decline because there are significantly more Latino high school students in Chicago than African-American students.

Also factoring into the projected decline in enrollment at those mostly-Latino schools are newly-opened charter schools nearby. Some of those charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded, are expected to enroll hundreds of additional students in the coming year.

The five charter high schools projected to get the biggest enrollment bumps — Noble-ITW Speer, Aspira-Business and Finance and Noble-Mansueto — are all within two miles of at least one of the mostly-Latino high schools projected to see drops in enrollment. 

Kelly High School is expected to see the most dramatic shift. The Brighton Park school is projected to lose about 200 students — and thus about $1.5 million. Meanwhile, Noble Street Charter Network is opening a new facility for its Mansueto campus less than a mile away. Noble Street-Mansueto is looking to enroll 215 more students and get a $1.6 million boost in funding.

Democratic State Rep. Theresa Mah, a member of Kelly’s local school council, said she signed off on a budget for Kelly Tuesday morning that included 19 staff cuts, four of them teachers.

“Our goal was to impact as few classroom teachers as possible to prioritize the experience of the student,” she said. “The total impact is pretty devastating.” 

Mah said one complication is that Kelly’s leadership believes more students will show up than projected. 

She did not blame the opening of the nearby charter school. But at a community forum in Brighton Park on Tuesday, Kelly students did.

Several complained about the condition of their school, which they said had holes in the wall and falling paint. 

Senior Leslie Vences said she doesn’t feel like Kelly High School has a fair chance when compared to the new school. 

She said she believes students are drawn to Noble-Mansueto because it is new. 

“It is somewhere where you feel better about yourself and you don’t feel less than anybody else,” she said. “You feel like your education is valued.”

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation.

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