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NYC school enrollment projected to remain steady after steep pandemic losses

Children (7-12) sitting around table, having discussion, elevated view - stock photo

New York City schools expect student enrollment to hold mostly steady in the coming school year, following multiple years of steep pandemic declines, according to city data released Monday.

Tim Platt / Getty Images

For the first time since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, New York City’s public schools expect student enrollment to hold mostly steady across the five boroughs in the coming year, according to education department figures released Monday.

Projected enrollment is expected to drop 0.6% in K-12 across many of the city’s public schools, down from a more than 2% decline in the 2022-23 school year and just under 6% drop the year before.

The figures are estimates and will likely differ from the actual numbers, but they hold significant implications for schools since they are a major measure to determine their initial annual budgets. These figures do not include students attending homeschools, charters, or schools in a few special districts that don’t operate under the city’s funding formula.

Overall, the education department expects just under 767,500 students, down from roughly 772,500 students this year. The relatively small projected enrollment decline will likely insulate individual school budgets from big cuts next year.

More than 320 schools are expected to see at least 5% fewer students in the coming school year, down significantly from the roughly 540 who lost at least 5% of their students this year. Meanwhile, 190 schools are predicted to have increases of at least 5% next year, down slightly from nearly 210 schools that saw those gains this year.

Whether a school’s student population rises or falls has major implications for how much it receives through the city’s Fair Student Funding formula, or FSF. That formula uses enrollment and student need to determine how much money schools receive. Roughly two-thirds of school budgets flow through the FSF formula, which the city plans to adjust to greater benefit schools that serve more vulnerable students.

A DOE spokesperson declined to provide the overall funding expected to be distributed through the FSF formula in the coming school year.

But even with fewer schools seeing enrollment declines, the city continues to use federal relief funding to offset student losses. If enrollment holds mostly steady, city schools could still face budget cuts as those funds dry up. And other changes could impact schools, too, as Mayor Eric Adams’ administration has planned a roughly 3% cut in the DOE’s budget

Ana Champeny, vice president for research at the Citizens Budget Commission, said it was “heartening that the enrollment decline appears to be moderating.”

But, the long-term trend of declining enrollment is continuing, she said. “Schools have been largely held harmless for Fair Student Funding budget reductions due to enrollment declines during the pandemic. Despite this slowdown, schools will still need to adjust to FSF funding that aligns with actual enrollment.”

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and a longtime advocate for smaller class sizes who fought budget cuts last year, said the steadying enrollment figures meant further cuts were unnecessary.

“With this minuscule decline there is no excuse for any cuts to schools,” she said.

Since the pandemic hit, city schools have lost more than 100,000 K-12 students. Those declines came as the city and the nation faced an exodus of students from public schools.

The city bases its projections on fall enrollment, recent trends, principal feedback, and other factors. But the estimates can sometimes be off.  Heading into this year, officials anticipated a 4% drop, but the actual decline was smaller at about 2%. The city has also seen its enrollment numbers bolstered in the past year as families seeking asylum have come to the city and enrolled their students in local schools.

Julian Shen-Berro is a reporter covering New York City. Contact him at jshen-berro@chalkbeat.org.

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