N.Y.C. Public School Enrollment Declined 4.5 Percent During the Pandemic

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New York|Enrollment in N.Y.C. public schools declined by 50,000 since the start of the pandemic.


Students in the Bronx on the first day of school waiting to enter their classrooms.
Credit…Anna Watts for The New York Times

Eliza Shapiro

Enrollment in New York City’s public school system has dropped by about 50,000 students since the fall of 2019, the Department of Education said on Friday, the latest example of the profound disruption the pandemic has had on public education across the country.

The 4.5 percent drop was likely driven by a number of factors, including parents choosing to home-school their children either temporarily or long-term, families leaving the city during the pandemic and some parents delaying the start of school for their young children altogether.

New York City lost by far the largest number of students in recent history between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020, when about 38,000 students left the system.

But between fall of 2020 and now, enrollment fell by about 13,000 students, or roughly 1 percent, a rate that mirrors prepandemic drops in 2018 and 2019.

Los Angeles and Chicago, home to the biggest districts in the United States after New York, lost a larger percentage of students this year.

There are currently just over 1 million children enrolled in all of New York City’s public schools, including charter schools. About 938,000 of those students are enrolled in traditional district schools, according to preliminary data from the Department of Education.

Though New York is home to by far the largest school district in the country, enrollment has been steadily declining for years, prompted in part by families leaving the city in search of more affordable housing.

The losses over the past year were concentrated in non-charter district schools, which lost about 17,000 students. They have seen an enrollment decline of over 60,000 students, or roughly 6 percent, since the start of the pandemic. Charters have been steadily gaining enrollment for most of the last decade, but enrollment dipped slightly this year compared to last.

Daily attendance among enrolled students in city schools this fall is slightly below the typical average, at just under 90 percent. The education department had previously resisted explaining how it calculated that rate, but it said on Friday that it was tracking 869,000 students under its regular attendance system, excluding most children in prekindergarten and other early childhood programs.

Unlike many districts across the country, New York saw an increase in enrollment for young children: The city added seats in its pre-K program.

School districts across the country have been grappling with enrollment drops worsened by the pandemic’s profound effect on public education. A recent New York Times analysis found that about 340,000 kindergarten students nationwide did not show up to virtual or in-person classes during the pandemic.

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