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Chicago Public Schools is no longer the third largest district in the nation

After 11 years of declining enrollment, Chicago Public Schools is no longer the third largest school district in the nation.

There are now 322,106 children attending public schools in the city, about 9,000 fewer than last year, according to the official enrollment tally released Wednesday at a school board meeting. This is more than 80,000 fewer students than ten years ago, when the municipal authorities closed 50 schools citing low enrollment and more than 115,000 fewer than 20 years ago.

The astonishing contraction in size raises important questions about the future of the public school system and the city as a whole.

“Our enrollment numbers reflect many changes, including declining birth rates, but they also provide us with an opportunity to review our practices and ensure that we are providing the best programs and services to our students,” said CPS CEO Pedro Martinez told the board. Meet.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools surpassed CPS as the third largest school district in the nation. The District of Florida had 324,961 registrants as of September 1, a district spokesperson confirmed. Clark County in Nevada remains the fifth largest school district with slightly more 305,000 registered. New York’s public schools are the largest with more than 950,000 students enrolled last fall and Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest with over 430,000 Last year.

The decades-long decline in enrollment has accelerated during the pandemic, with more than 33,000 students leaving the district since fall 2020.

Pandemic-related closures and remote learning are placing unprecedented pressure on public schools across the country. But the reasons for Chicago’s decline are varied and, in some cases, murky, according to a presentation Wednesday to school board members.

Most students who left Chicago schools — for reasons other than graduation — went to out-of-town schools or transferred to private schools, though both of these moves went together. produced less this year than last year. The number of students transitioning to home schooling has increased during the pandemic, but those numbers have declined this year.

District officials have seen an increase in the number of students considered dropouts and those who simply did not show up to school.

As the district has contracted in size, the racial demographics have not changed significantly. Chicago schools still serve mostly Latino and black students, but the percentage of white and Asian American students has increased. However, all groups are experiencing declines.

District officials noted that some parts of the city suffered greater losses than others, including the predominantly Latino neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village.

Despite declining enrollment, the district’s budget grew to $9.4 billion from about 5 billion dollars ten years ago. A new state funding formula and a wave of pandemic recovery money have helped. CPS is able to spend more money per student at a time of dire need.

Yet schools have been hit with budget cuts this spring. Union leaders, activists and parents have urged Chicago public schools to rethink their school-based funding model which they say is ultimately leading to lower enrollment and more school closures.

But with a moratorium on school closures through 2025, a key question for the current administration is whether budgets will — and even can — continue to be so closely tied to schooling.

“It doesn’t matter if we have 500 students or 300 students, those 300 students deserve quality,” said Carolina Gaete, executive director of Blocks Together, which is part of a coalition of community groups organizing parents around the issue.

Gaete spoke with parents outside Beidler Elementary on Sept. 19, the 20th day of the school year when the district takes its official enrollment count. It was a sunny September afternoon as the students emerged from the two-story red brick building in Garfield Park. Beidler retaliated against a planned closure in 2011 and Gaete said the closures did nothing for communities but created empty horrors.

That same day, Dixon Romeo spoke to parents outside Manley Career Academy. West Side High School has 70 students enrolled this fall, up from about 250 in 2015.

As the students exited the building, Romeo approached a handful of parents who were waiting in their cars. He discussed Manley’s enrollment numbers, the district’s school budgeting system and invited them to an upcoming virtual meeting on the district’s funding system.

United Working Families and Blocks Together are part of a larger coalition of community groups working to eliminate the school budgeting model that the group says destabilizes communities. The budgeting system pits groups against each other, he told a parent.

“For any fight, you must have an informed army,” Gaete said. “Part of that is really educating parents so they can really really understand what it is and how it works and who benefits from it and who has been negatively affected by it.”

Becky Vevea is the office manager for Chalkbeat Chicago. Contact Becky at [email protected]

Mauricio Peña is a reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering K-12 schools. Contact Mauricio at [email protected]

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