Nationwide, public school enrollment decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the four states Word in Black examined—Georgia, Michigan, Texas and Washington—enrollment for the 2020/2021 school year decreased by more than 2% statewide, according to school enrollment data from each state.
New York City’s public school system wasn’t immune to the pandemic-related changes that affected schools across the country.
In the 2020-’21 school year, enrollment in New York City’s public schools experienced a slight decline, but most of it could be attributed to certain grades.
According to the New York City Department of Education’s unaudited data, public schools didn’t show a consistent pattern in enrollment shifts across all grades. The DOE’s preliminary data showed a net loss of 43,000 students (4%) across grades 3K-12 bringing the current numbers of students in the city’s public school system, the biggest one in the country, to 960,000.
Across 3K to 12th grade, six grades experienced the same level of enrollment loss as the previous school year or experienced growth.
DOE spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon said that change is expected, but the city has survived better than most in the country.
“Given the current circumstances of the pandemic it is no surprise that we are seeing greater fluctuations in enrollment this year,” stated O’Hanlon. “However, no school district has stabilized its school system the way we have, which means that we can and will continue to offer the gold standard in health, safety, and learning in a completely transformed educational environment to our students.”
DOE officials said that pre-K and kindergarten experienced the biggest declines in enrollment. When compared to the 2019-’20 school year, 3K enrollment declined by 8% and pre-K enrollment declined by 13%.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education in Washington, D.C. said recently that there was a 21% drop in total applications for the 2020-’21 school year with the largest coming from pre-K and kindergarten.
Where New York City differs from other states mentioned here is the lack of racial demographic data. As of right now, according to the DOE, there’s no racial breakdown of enrollment data available. However, the DOE said that those numbers will be made public soon.
When looking at the current demographics of New York City’s public schools, 40.6% are Hispanic, 25.5% are Black, 16.2% are Asian and 15.1% are white.
Michigan, Texas and Washington state all currently have race-specific demographic enrollment data. In each of those states, Black student enrollment decreased by close to 1% during the pandemic, while the number of white student enrollment decreased by over 4%.
White students are leaving public school at higher rates than any other race, specifically in early education. Some have deduced that white parents can afford private tutors or to enroll their children in private school, can afford private childcare, or are able to keep their children at home without disrupting their work schedule.
“This is a conversation that was always happening pre-COVID,” Sylvia Simms, an education advocate who runs the group Parent Power, told WHYY in Philadelphia. “It’s still about the haves and the have-nots. If you have the resources and the money to go to a better neighborhood, go to a different district, you are able to do these things, but if you cannot, you’re stuck.”