CPS Enrollment Drops By 10,000 Students | WBEZ
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CPS Enrollment Drops By 10,000 Students

Updated 8 pm

Chicago Public Schools’ student population continued its seven-year downward trend, losing 10,000 students for the third straight year in a row.

The official 2018-2019 enrollment count for Chicago Public Schools is 361,314.

Since closings 50 schools for low enrollment in 2013, CPS has lost another 42,147 students. That’s more than the school district lost in the 10 years leading up to the historic school closings.

The loss of students can be attributed to black families continuing to flee crime-ridden neighborhoods, families having fewer children and fewer immigrants coming into the city due to federal policies.

The number of black and Latino students dropped by about 4 percent from last year, while slightly more white students were enrolled in Chicago public schools. Latino student enrollment is down for the fifth year in a row.

Students identified as low-income also declined by 12,000, though some of the drop may be due to families not providing income information to their schools. Still, this drop could affect how much the school district receives in state and federal funding that’s based on its count of poor students.

About 30 percent of the district’s 657 schools have 30 less students this year than last year.

Also, there were one thousand fewer preschool students, with the biggest decline among three-year-olds. Starting this year, Chicago is providing four-year-olds free full-day preschool.

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But this year’s official enrollment count does not come with the same threat as in previous years.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson promised that school budgets would not be cut based on lower-than-expected enrollment. In the past, schools that had fewer students enroll than were projected would have their budgets slashed a month into school, forcing teacher layoffs and a reshuffling of students’ classes.

Instead, schools with shrinking enrollment likely will get less money next year. That’s because their budgets for next year will be based on the enrollment numbers this fall. CPS funds its schools on a per-pupil basis, sending each school a stipend for each student enrolled.

While no schools lost money this year, about 250 got extra money because more than the projected number of students enrolled. School district officials said those schools split $15.5 million.

But the continued decline in students overall will again raise questions about whether more schools should be closed. CPS says it needs a minimum of 270 students per school to offer basic programming.

The official enrollment count released Friday shows that 26 high schools have fewer than 270 students, including West Side schools Manley Career Academy and Frederick Douglass High School, that each has less than 100.  

And high schools are not the only schools struggling to hold onto students. Seventy elementary schools have fewer than 270 students.

The school district released a report this year claiming the system has 150,000 unused seats, though some argue that number is arbitrary and based on a faulty building utilization formula that counts on large class sizes.

Still, because CPS has spent the last two decades opening new schools, even as the population has declined, there is little argument that many buildings have empty classrooms. Furthermore, it is expensive to run small schools and the district has limited resources.

Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, said he recently talked with Jackson about the “need to right size the school district.”

CPS needs “to find the best way to deliver the school services in a way that meets the students where they are, but also meets the financial limitations of the district,” he said.

Jackson has said she won’t undertake any wholesale closings of schools as the district did in 2013 when it shuttered 50 schools all at once. She also said she wants to invest in schools, rather than close them.

But she is holding meetings around the city where parents, community members, and school staff are asked what should be done to boost enrollment in schools. Some worry these meetings are setting the stage for school closings.

The first took place in a high school gym on the West Side last week. West Side schools lost more students than any other area in the city.

School district officials presented the group of about 100 people with information about schools in their area, including quality ratings and what kind of specialty programming, like STEM and International Baccalaureate, is offered. Some people said schools outside their communities seem to have better resources, including after-school programs and special classes.

But several people told officials that schools are battling larger issues that can’t be solved by better programs.

At John Hay Community Academy in Austin, Principal Latrese Mathis asked parents who want to transfer their children out of Hay to fill out a survey about why they are leaving. She said every once in a while they say they don’t like the school.

But usually, parents say they are looking for a safer community or one with more opportunities. Last week, a 15-year old freshman who just graduated from Hay was killed in the neighborhood.

“We are losing them [these families] to the entire community,” she said. “They are going to Peoria. They are going to Iowa. They are going to Wisconsin…. Now how can we get some assistance with that?”

This story was updated to include the correct drop in enrollment since the closure of 50 schools in 2013.

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

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