Enrollment in Chicago’s public schools fell for the 11th straight year, leaving extremely small schools with shrinking student populations poised for continued funding cuts.

CPS, long the nation’s third-largest public school system, lost nearly 9,000 children this year, according to preliminary data posted on the CPS website this month. The number peaked at about 321,000 pre-K. This data includes both district-operated and charter schools.

Chicago has lost about 83,000 public school students over the past decade, including a decline of about 3% in each of the last seven years. The continued decline means CPS could lose its title as the third-largest Miami-Dade County public schools district in Florida, which saw its enrollment grow by 325,000.

The drop, while significant, is not as steep as the 15,000 student drop that some experts predicted CPS could lose this fall.

But it’s still a pain for many schools, which are funded primarily on a per-pupil basis. A school in Brighton Park on the Southwest Side that saw enrollment decline last year had to let go of an assistant principal this year. Patrick Brosnan, executive director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said that Else always had two kindergarten classes, but this year the budget and enrollment could not support two classes.

“The population makes the school program very complicated and then the funding makes it almost impossible,” Brosnan said. “So ultimately you have students who are missing out on a high-quality education.”

Student demographics appear largely unchanged at CPS this year. The share of black students has declined slightly and the share of white students has increased slightly, but black and Hispanic students still make up more than 82% of enrollment. Hispanic students are the largest population – 46.5% of the district.

CPS does not release its official enrollment figures, which are calculated on the 20th day of school each year. The milestone was passed Monday, but officials would not confirm the preliminary numbers this week, saying the district’s data team was still finalizing and analyzing the records. In the past, CPS has released its official numbers weeks after the 20th day in October.

“The Sun-Times/WBEZ data regarding district initial enrollment data is not representative of the 20th day enrollment population,” CPS spokeswoman Mary Fergus said in a statement. CPS only begins its analysis of student enrollment after the 20th day has passed because enrollment changes during the first few weeks of school, the statement said.

“Given that [20th day] As the enrollment file serves as the basis for our annual enrollment count and is used in many ways, it is important that we spend time to ensure that the final enrollment numbers for the district and each school are as accurate as possible. You’re right,” he said.

Preliminary 20-day enrollment figures from the Sun-Times and WBEZ come from individual school enrollment numbers listed on the CPS website, which is updated regularly. And the CPS 20-day enrollment is also publicly available on the City of Chicago data portal.

After missing about 10,000 children for several years, CPS saw its steepest decline at the start of the pandemic, losing 15,000 students in the 2020-21 school year. Since then, the district has pursued students who have disengaged or lost contact with their schools.

But experts say low birth rates, declining immigration and families leaving the city have kept enrollment from returning. Pointing to the shortage, many schools are seeing kindergarten classes that are much smaller than their upper grades—in some cases building eighth-grade groups of 130 students with kindergarten groups of 80 students. share the

The population loss is particularly severe in high schools. The district’s 23 schools now have fewer than 300 students, up from 21 last year. Douglas Academy in Austin has just 34 students, and Hirsch High School in Grand Crossing has an enrollment of 99 students. Because about half of a school’s budget is distributed on a per-pupil basis, these schools struggle to provide a full array of classes and extracurricular activities.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez has said he will soon announce plans to establish “neighborhood hub” high schools. It’s unclear exactly what that entails or what it means for the future of these small high schools. There is a ban on school closures until January 2025.

The increasing number of elementary schools is also decreasing. 70 district-run elementary schools saw student enrollment decline by 10 percentage points or more in just one year. There are less than 200 students in total 28 schools managed by the district. A Sun-Times/WBEZ analysis shows that elementary schools serving predominantly black students in West Side communities and schools serving predominantly Latino students on the Southwest Side have increased their enrollment. has seen the greatest decline.

A reduction in district enrollment does not translate to a significant or direct reduction in state or local revenues. But CPS has a finite amount of resources to work with—and its student-based budgeting formula essentially penalizes schools with low enrollment. That raises questions about how the district expects to spread resources across its more than 500 buildings.

For example, elementary school principals in Brighton Park are concerned about what their enrollment losses — about 7% from last year — mean for their future budgets, Brosnan said.

“It’s been a very, very steady decline,” he said.

Some prefer smaller schools.

But while budgeting for a small school can be complicated, some parents love the atmosphere.

Samantha Taylor’s daughter attends Bedler Elementary in East Garfield Park. Badler has only 260 students, down about 45 students from last year. But he said all classes have more than 20 children. She said the school does not feel under-enrolled and it allows students to have close relationships with teachers and principals.

“We’re the best,” Taylor said. “The merrier, but with the number of students we have, we can provide the attention, and the attention students need, academically, emotionally.”

Stacey Davis Gates, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said the drop in enrollment, particularly from the exodus of black families, comes from city policies that don’t invest in housing, public transportation and safety in black communities. .

“You’re closing schools in another way — to starve the community of affordable housing, which means you have fewer kids going to school, which also means You’re sending less money to those schools,” Davis Gates said. “That means fewer resources and fewer bells and whistles.”

Davis Gates said it’s not too late to fund the very small schools that have been stripped of resources over the years. But he said CPS and city policies have to change first.

“If our mayors, including this one, can’t stop black families from leaving by supporting and funding black communities and educating black children, then they’ve failed black people,” he said. “

Nader Isa is the Education Reporter of OlxPraca. Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ.

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