Chicago Public Schools’ latest enrollment drop was spurred largely by students leaving the city for schools in the suburbs, downstate or entirely out of the state, plus children moving to city private schools, parents opting for homeschooling or kids falling off the district’s radar, new data released Wednesday shows.
The number of students falling into one of those categories totaled almost 26,000 and left CPS hanging on by a thread to its status as the third-largest district in the nation. The school system suffered its 10th consecutive year of falling enrollment, now down to 330,000 from last year’s 341,000, according to a tally on the 20th day of this school year.
“One of the questions that I’m asking … as we’re seeing more children, what it appears to be, transferring outside of the city, is what are the offerings right now that we have across our neighborhood,” CEO Pedro Martinez said. “Do we have a clear standard of the quality of our offerings and programs, and how is that contributing to enrollment declines across some of these neighborhoods?”
Martinez said he also plans to examine the pandemic’s impact on enrollment, particularly as families faced continued “uncertainty about this school year.”
CPS saw a rise in the number of new students enrolling in the district compared to last year, but the increase in students leaving the system was greater, causing the net loss of about 10,000 kids.
That came after what appeared to be a relatively stagnant period last year with fewer students moving in and out of the district as the pandemic limited the movement families were willing or able to make. CPS last year saw thousands fewer new students entering the system and also fewer kids leaving.
The enrollment drop this year included 17,888 students leaving Chicago for out-of-city public or private schools; 3,129 children moving to Chicago private schools; and 1,393 opting for homeschooling. Another 3,408 were marked “did not arrive,” meaning they hadn’t shown up by the 20th day of school and CPS didn’t have information on their whereabouts.
All those categories either saw increases or similar numbers compared to last year. But in particular, the number of kids transferring outside the city, those who “did not arrive” and children moving to homeschooling all increased even over pre-pandemic figures.
Among the gloomy news came some positive signs, too. As the district announced last week, the number of students dropping out fell in the past year.
And of the 100,000 children CPS identified as being at risk of not re-enrolling this fall, 87% are back in school or graduated. Among the remaining students, 7,132 transferred to other schools, 4,606 dropped out, 254 were incarcerated and 43 died.
One major system affected by these enrollment figures is student-based budgeting, the district’s funding formula that gives schools money based on how many students they have. Education advocates have criticized that model because schools that have lost enrollment over the years — generally in Black and Latino neighborhoods — have then lost funding, leading to a vicious cycle of reduced programming causing more kids to leave and so on.
Asked about student-based budgeting, Martinez said he’ll take a closer look over the next few weeks and months at how these enrollment declines are affecting schools and neighborhoods.
“I don’t have an actual opinion one way or another on student-based budgeting,” Martinez said. “I think there’s advantages to it, in terms of the level of transparency, we can compare schools, we can have great equity conversations. For me, the bigger question is what is happening across programming across all of our schools.”
Martinez said he supports evidence-based budgeting, a model adopted by state education officials a few years ago, which grants schools funding based on their unique students’ needs — such as the number of kids coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, in special education, experiencing homelessness and other factors. But Martinez said that formula would need full funding to work, which the state isn’t currently accomplishing — by state metrics, CPS is below 70% adequately funded.
CPS over the past couple of years has tried to slow the churn of student-based budgeting. The district has sent money to some schools to partially offset their declining enrollment, and this year created a formula similar to the one the state now uses that accounts for student needs. But those still account for only a portion of the budgeting process.
“When I was in CPS my first year in 2003, we were just under 440,000 students,” Martinez said. “And even then I was seeing declines in about 3,000 students or so [per year]. I would have never imagined seeing this steep of a decline.”