CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools enrollment has dropped by 15,000, the largest single-year decline in more than 20 years.
Official enrollment fell from 355,156 during the 2019-20 school year to 340,658 this fall, according to a Friday CPS news release. The district said more analysis is needed to determine why enrollment plummeted, but the coronavirus pandemic — and, with it, remote learning — “played a significant role.”
The district released the numbers the same day it announced it plans to bring pre-K and special education students back to classrooms when the second quarter begins Nov. 9.
The decline can largely be attributed to fewer new students — particularly younger ones — being enrolled in the district, rather than students transferring out, according to a Friday CPS news release. Just 32,000 new students enrolled this fall, while 44,000 new students enrolled last year.
The biggest drop has been seen among pre-K students, where enrollment losses account for 41 percent of CPS’ decline, according to the district.
“With fewer students leaving the district and relative stability in enrollment among higher grades, the district believes that the significant challenges presented by even the strongest remote learning plans has led to the dramatic decline in enrollment among our youngest students,” according to CPS.
The district saw drops in pre-K enrollment among all students, but most prominently among Black and Latino students: Black student enrollment for pre-K fell 44 percent, and Latino student enrollment fell 29 percent. There was a 22 percent decline in pre-K enrollment for white students and a 9 percent decline among Asian students.
“While we’re seeing similar trends across the country, the stunning decline among Black children enrolled in pre-K casts a somber light on how the pandemic and remote learning negatively impact our youngest learners,” Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade said in the news release.
District-run elementary schools saw enrollment fall by 8,086 students; 3-year-old pre-K enrollment fell 1,238 students; and 4-year-old pre-K enrollment fell 4,760 students, according to CPS.
The district said remote learning has posed significant challenges for families, and especially for families with pre-K and special needs children, which could account for the enrollment drop.
To counter that, CPS will try to bring those students back to classrooms this November.
But Chicago’s facing a new surge of COVID-19, and the Chicago Teachers Union criticized the district’s plan, saying it will put thousands of Chicago’s most vulnerable students at risk, as well as their families and district staff.
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