Enrollment down by 4,400 over last year

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Preschoolers walk to class at Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center in this file photo from 2013. A decline in 3-year-olds attending preschool contributed to an overall decline in enrollment this year at CPS.

Photo by Jonathan Gibby

Preschoolers walk to class at Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center in this file photo from 2013. A decline in 3-year-olds attending preschool contributed to an overall decline in enrollment this year at CPS.

Chicago Public Schools enrollment fell by about 4,400 students from last year, according to numbers CPS officials released Friday that tally up the number of students who were present on the 20th day of school.

The district now serves 392,285 students, including preschoolers and students in privately run charter, contract and alternative schools, or about 1 percent fewer than last year.

For the first time, CPS excluded students from its official count who did not attend a single day of school — and withheld money from schools for these students. Just under 550 students had previously enrolled but didn’t show up.

Last month, CPS released enrollment estimates for the 10th day of school and used those figures to make staff cuts. But as of Friday evening, district officials had yet to make available a school-by-school list of where those layoffs occurred.

Much of the district’s overall enrollment decline is due to a decrease in the number of 3-year-olds in preschool. More than a 1,000 fewer 3-year-olds are in preschool this year, but about 720 more 4-year-olds are in preschool — reversing a trend the district has seen over the last two years, when there were significant declines in 4-year-olds attending CPS preschools, despite the mayor’s push to expand access for them.

Enrollment in preschool community partner programs, which are funded by the district but not included in the official enrollment count, was up by 855 students over last year, for a total of just under 5,800 preschoolers. These programs are often based in preschool centers.

Cristina Pacione-Zayas, the education director at the Latino Policy Forum, says the boost at community partners might be due to the fact that more of them offer a full-day of preschool — an attractive option for parents.

The overall decline of about 290 children in school-based preschool classrooms in CPS could be due to the expansion of full-day preschool for 4-year-olds, she said, which can leave some schools with less classroom space — prompting a decline in the number of total children who can be served. (In the past, officials have pointed to falling enrollment district-wide while advocates have said the recently centralized registration process is difficult to navigate and often places children at schools far from their homes.)

The district’s K-12 enrollment decline is not as steep as had been estimated on the 10th day of school. Since then, the district says about 2,200 more students are attending CPS.

A Catalyst analysis of the changes between the 10th and 20th days of school shows that neighborhood high schools, particularly on the South Side, continued to see the highest numbers of enrollment losses.

Eleven neighborhood schools lost at least 10 students in that span of time, nine of which were on the South Side. But 26 schools — mostly elementary schools on the South and West sides — gained at least 10 students.

Just over one in 10 neighborhood elementary and high schools were significantly above or below  the enrollment projections the district had made for them earlier this summer.

Among the 79 neighborhood, charter and contract schools that had enrollment projections that were off by at least 10 percent, half were on the South Side.

An analysis of the data shows:

  • Enrollment at 36 neighborhood elementary and high schools saw declines from the projections of 10 percent or more. Eighteen were on the South Side, 13 on the West Side and five on the North Side.
  • Twenty-two neighborhood elementary and high schools exceeded their projections by 10 percent or more. Ten were on the South Side, six were on the West Side and six were on the North Side.
  • Among charter and contract schools (excluding alternative schools) 10 schools fell 10 percent or more below their projected enrollment. Four each were on the North and South sides. Two were on the West Side.
  • Eleven charter and contract schools exceeded their enrollment projections by 10 percent or more. Eight were on the South Side, two on the North Side and one on the West Side.

With 125 fewer students, Noble Academy High School topped the list of charter and contract schools that fell below projected enrollment issued this summer. The shortfall was about a third of what had been expected.

Cody Rogers, a spokesman for Noble, said enrollment suffered because of uncertainty over where the school would be located and a lack of outreach to enroll new students. Earlier this year, the school abandoned plans to move to Uptown after parents and elected officials spoke out against the move. The school will share space this year with Chicago International Charter School’s ChicagoQuest campus — which also fell short of projections, by 91 students.

“It’s hard to attract kids to come to your new school when three months before you don’t know where the location will be,” Rogers said, adding that Noble believes the enrollment will stabilize when the school has a permanent location.

It’s difficult to analyze how overall charter and contract school enrollment has changed over the last year due to inconsistencies in CPS data.

On a fact sheet distributed to reporters Friday, CPS said about 61,500 students in kindergarten to 12th grade were enrolled in charter and contract schools this year, up from about 59,700 last year.

But a data file posted to the CPS website on Friday afternoon showed about 55,800 students were in K-12 charter and contract schools this year. (As of Friday night, a CPS spokesperson had yet to explain why the numbers didn’t match.)

The enrollment data comes just five days before the CPS Board of Education is set to vote on whether to approve 13 new privately run schools, many of which would be co-located with other schools, if approved. Activists who say the district doesn’t need more schools at a time of overall declining enrollment have called the lack of current charter school enrollment data troubling.

Though the 20th day of school was on Oct. 5, district officials said they waited to release the figures because they were still being validated.

  • Concerned Parent

    Example of what CPS touches get ruined. Once Rahm took the authority of schools to directly enroll pre-k students, enrollment goes down and the children lose the pre-k opportunity. This also means they come to kindergarten unprepared.

  • Concerned Parent

    Why wont CPS release the real charter enrollment numbers? They would rather open unnecessary charters in a budget catastrophe and continue to cause undue harm to children who attend neighborhood schools.