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New York City's public school students have dropped sharply this year. It fell by 4% or approximately 43,000 according to data from the state and city. These new data offer the most comprehensive picture yet of enrollment trends during coronavirus pandemic.
Despite being the largest school district in the country, enrollment has been declining over recent years. This is due to falling birth rates and rising charter enrollment.
However, New York City's traditional public schools saw more students drop this year than any other 14 years. According to preliminary data released Wednesday, enrollment stands at approximately 960,000.
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According to Chalkbeat's analysis of state data, almost three quarters of traditional public schools had fewer students this year than last. One in four schools lost at least 10%.
While many schools saw their enrollments drop, the largest losses were felt by the city's youngest students. This is consistent with national trends. According to preliminary enrollment data for December, 3-K program enrollment fell by 8% and 4-year-old pre-K programs dropped by 13%. Enrollment in kindergarten, when New York City makes education compulsory, fell by 9%.
These declines are important because school budgets depend on how many students are enrolled. Already, the city's education department is attempting to recover money from individual schools. This happens each year when schools enroll fewer students that projected.
This is generating more opposition this year due to the severity of enrollment losses and the increased financial burden associated with operating in a pandemic. Schools must simultaneously staff remote and in-person classrooms.
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Principals worry that they won't lose the money if they don't -- many have already spent their money for substitutes, teachers and paraprofessionals -- but it will be taken out of next year’s budget as they are tasked to catch up with students who might have lost ground due to the pandemic.
Principal of P.S. Liz Phillips said, They know there's not way we can repay it this year. 321 in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighbourhood. We will need more money next school year. Even if we return to normal, there will be children who need more support as a result of missing in-school instruction. It is quite alarming to think that less funding would be available.
Her school has had enrollment drop by about 7%. The city owes her $600,000, which is roughly 5% of its budget.
Some schools are more difficult than others
Although the state and city numbers don't reveal the reason students left, the number of schools that have seen enrollment declines indicates that there may be other reasons.
Because virtual learning was not effective for young learners, some caretakers might have chosen to homeschool their children.
Some may have moved away from the city and enrolled in private schools that offer more in-person instruction or stopped attending school altogether. For example, older students may have had to find work in order to support their families financially.
Many families are turning to charter schools in the city. According to state data, charter schools in the city saw an increase of 7.5%, which is nearly 10,000 students.
The figures don't show how many students moved from one district to another charter school, which was a sector that has been growing steadily since before the pandemic. (Chalkbeat previously reported internal city enrollment data, but it did not include charter schools and early childhood programs.
The hardest hit schools were elementary schools, with a loss of 6% overall enrollment. This may be due to the difficulty of remote learning for city's youngest students. Officials from the Education Department said that they are doing "extensive outreach", to enroll more students into pre-K programs. It is still possible to register this year. High school enrollment was flat, but middle schools saw a slight decline.
These trends do not reflect the impact on individual campuses. High schools that serve the most vulnerable students in the city are also affected. The state data used October enrollment figures to determine that transfer schools, which are schools that serve older students but who aren't on the right track to graduate, saw a steep drop in the number of schools. More than half of the 50 districts lost more than 10%.
High schools serving recent immigrants
High schools serving recent immigrants also reported declining enrollments. This could make it more difficult for principals to provide individual support to students who have been enrolled in remote learning for months. All middle and high schools offer remote instruction at this time.
On the other end, there were a few wealthy schools that saw large losses. Approximately 10% of students left, but they are a small part of the overall decline in the city.
The overall drop in enrollment of low-income students accounted for 4.3% of the decrease in public school enrollment.
Chalkbeat's analysis shows that the losses are not evenly distributed across geographic areas or racial groups.
The enrollment decline at Staten Island's school district schools was the least, accounting for a drop of 1.6%. The largest enrollment drop was in District 23, Brooklyn, which includes Ocean Hill and Brownsville as well as parts of East New York. It saw a 10.2% decrease in enrollment.