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CPS enrollment drops to 330,000

Chicago Public School’s enrollment continues to dwindle as officials announced that the District has 10,000 fewer students than a year ago for a total of 330,411 students. That figure is a 3-percent decline from the 340,658 students who were enrolled in the District last year.

CPS said about 47 percent of the District’s students are Hispanic, approximately 36 percent are Black, about 11 percent are white and roughly 4 percent are Asian.

All three of those racial groups lost students from one year to the next. The number of Asian students also fell, while the number of multiracial students increased slightly.

According to District data, CPS saw enrollment declines across every grade level from K-8, while high school enrollment stayed relatively flat with some increases.

Nearly 47,000 students left CPS from the 2019-20 school year to the 2020-21 school year. Last year, that number jumped up to nearly 54,000 from last school year to the current one, the District said. About 43,500 new students entered CPS this year, but it wasn’t enough to offset those losses.

Chicago joins other big-city districts, including New York and Los Angeles, that have seen enrollment declines this year as well. Last month, New York Public Schools, the largest in the nation, reported that its enrollment dropped by about 50,000 students since the fall of 2019. There are 938,000 students enrolled in New York Public Schools, according to preliminary data from the Department of Education. Enrollment in the Los Angeles Unified School District is 439,013, a six-percent drop from 466,229 last year.

Chicago Public Schools managed to keep its ranking as the nation’s third-largest school district. Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth-largest district, has 334,000 students but that includes 50,000 adult learners.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was surprised enrollment didn’t decline even more considering the COVID- 19 pandemic.

“We had to quickly transition to remote learning. We know that didn’t work for a lot of families. There’s been a lot of challenges and struggles that have been revealed throughout the course of this pandemic that hit our most vulnerable residents the hardest, many of whom have children attending CPS,” Lightfoot said.

New CPS CEO Pedro Martinez attributed the enrollment decline on the coronavirus pandemic, a drop in the city’s birth rate and transfers outside of the school district. At his first board meeting, Martinez reportedly pledged to examine the impact these declines have on individual schools and neighborhoods. He said the vast majority of CPS students are leaving Chicago.

The Chicago Teachers Union blamed the dwindling enrollment on under-funded schools in largely Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

“A year and a half of pandemic disease and death has exacerbated needs in neighborhoods that have been neglected for decades,” the Union said in a statement. “This ought to be a moment of reflection and an opportunity for transformative investment and vision. Families must see the mayor and District committing and implementing investments that do more than pay lip service to the ongoing inequities.”

Board President Miguel del Valle said another concern was about the lingering gun violence in the city. Chicago has already seen more than 660 homicides this year, and del Valle said many parents are “concerned for the safety of their children and the block they live.”

“And so, they look to relocate, and sometimes that relocation happens outside the city of Chicago because it’s getting more and more expensive for some of these families to relocate within more and more neighborhoods in the city of Chicago,” he said. “That’s reality.”

CPS isn’t the only District in Illinois to see declines in enrollment. New data from state education leaders show overall enrollment declined by some 70,000 students this year.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) on Friday, October 29, released enrollment and other data for the 2021-22 school year in its annual report card, which shows statewide enrollment fell from 1,957,018 students last year down to 1,887,316 students. This year, Illinois saw a 3.5- percent decline, and ISBE says that additional decreases can be attributed to the pandemic, putting it on par with similar enrollment loss seen in other states around the country.

“We have witnessed both tragedy and heroism in our schools over the past year,” ISBE Superintendent Carmen Ayala said in a statement. “Students and educators have lost so much and lived and learned through un-thinkable obstacles, but the loss is not the whole story.

We know we have a steep road ahead of us to help students regain skills in math and reading, and we are confident that we have the funding, supports, and talent in our schools to climb that hill.”

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