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His team’s trying to hide it, but de Blasio’s bungling has parents fleeing NYC schools

His team’s trying to hide it, but de Blasio’s bungling has
parents fleeing NYC schools 1

Mayor-elect Eric Adams won on a common-sense platform of making critical city services more efficient. Nowhere is the need clearer than in Gotham’s school system, which under outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio has drifted aimlessly, sowing parental discontent.

Last week, the system released its annual student headcount, much anticipated after last year’s huge drop, particularly in the early grades, due to COVID-related school closures and the city’s uneven remote-learning performance. Did some students who left return this year or has the Department of Education irrevocably lost them to public charter and private schools?

We have no way of knowing: In an incredibly cynical act, the DOE released a single number, total students enrolled in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. With that restricted accounting, the news didn’t seem so awful: Enrollment was down 17,000, a much smaller drop than last year’s 43,000. But that comparison says little because year-to-year changes often look very different at different grade levels.

What is the city hiding? A close look at State Education Department numbers shows parental confidence in de Blasio’s stewardship was already dwindling pre-pandemic, before the disastrous 18-month shutdown of most DOE schools.

Mayor de Blasio and NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter. Parental confidence in de Blasio’s stewardship of the city’s schools has dwindled.
Gregory P. Mango

By comparing the number of students who entered kindergarten in a particular year to the number born in the city five years before, we can see what percentage of a single cohort entered city schools. That number will never be 100 percent — more children typically leave the city between birth and age 5 than move in — but a significant drop from previous years can be telling.

So what did I find, examining kindergarten enrollment in city DOE schools, public charter schools (funded but not operated by the DOE) and private and religious schools from 2009-10 through 2020-21? These school years covered kindergarteners born in 2004 through 2015.

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In 2009, there were more than 99,000 kindergarteners enrolled in the city’s public, charter and private/religious schools — 80.7 percent of the more than 123,000 children born in 2004 (and surviving their first year). That percentage grew every year until reaching 85.9 percent in 2015-16: A greater proportion of parents chose to stay in the city and enroll their young children in school here.

The percentage of kids matriculating into the public schools grew (1.4 percent for the Department of Education’s schools and 4.8 percent for charters) and declined a bit (1 percent) in the city’s private and religious schools. Good news for the city, good news for satisfied parents and good news for the city’s public schools.

Eric Adams
Mayor-elect Eric Adams could be inheriting a school system in disarray from the de Blasio administration.
Robert Mecea

That changed soon after de Blasio took office in 2014. From 2015-16 through 2019-20 (the last pre-COVID year), the percentage of kids born five years earlier enrolled in DOE schools dropped each year, reaching 80 percent, a staggering drop of 6 points, in 2019-20.

The numbers are clear: Parents were once again seeking education options outside the city.

The outgoing administration may try to fault the falling birth rate, but it can’t: The percentage calculation accounts for that. Even worse for de Blasio, DOE schools bore the brunt of the exodus. In 2019-20, DOE kindergarten enrollment was 52.9 percent of students born in NYC in 2014, 6.3 points lower than in 2015-16. Charter-school kindergarten enrollment was up 2.4 points and private/religious down 2.1 points.

In other words, parents began leaving the city and particularly the Department of Education’s schools even before COVID. More would have chosen charter schools if not for the unconscionable cap on them; instead, many parents had to leave the city entirely.

Of course, the bottom fell out of the DOE’s kindergarten enrollment during the pandemic, dropping 5.5 percent in a single year. Private and religious schools were down by 0.9 percent and charter schools stayed virtually unchanged — capped by the state Legislature.

What happened this year? Only the DOE knows — and it’s not talking.

Ray Domanico is a senior fellow and director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute.

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