Chicago reports another year of enrollment declines — but holds on to title of third-largest district in U.S.

Enrollment in Chicago Public Schools has shrunk further, down 1.7% this school year from the previous year. In all, the district lost 6,158 students, according to numbers released Friday.

The district’s final student tally for 2019-20 is 355,156. Click here to see enrollment numbers by school. 

But the year-over-year declines slowed considerably compared to past years, when annual drops topped 10,000 or more. The district credited higher numbers of students enrolling in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.

The city still holds on to the title of the nation’s third largest school system, behind New York City and Los Angeles and ahead of Miami Dade, which also saw its student population decline this fall to 347,069. 

Student enrollment counts are important, because they determine how much money the district gets from the state, and how much individual schools get from the district. At the school level, per-student funding determines how many teachers a principal can hire, whether or not there are librarians and arts teachers, and how many programs are offered.

The figures reflect enrollment as of Sept. 30, the 20th day of school. That’s the official school census day throughout the state. 

By race, the district saw 2% decrease in the largest student demographic — Latino students — but larger declines in the number of black students, continuing a decades-long trend. Black students dropped 3.5% from the year prior and a full 30% from a decade ago. Meanwhile, the number of white and Asian students inched up slightly.

Overall, the new enrollment figures show slight changes in the racial demographics of the district: Chicago Public Schools is now 47% Latino, 36% black, 11% white, and 4% Asian.

Chicago isn’t the only district shrinking. Statewide, Illinois schools lost 17,010 pupils — roughly 1% of enrollment — in the past year. The new statewide student tally is 1,984,519, according to new data from the Illinois Report Card. To blame are a declining birth rate, a slowdown in immigration, and population declines overall. 

In Chicago, when schools gain students from the previous year, they get more money from the district in the form of mid-year adjustments. This year, those mid-year adjustments will total $13 million, the district said Friday. 

When schools lose students, they don’t immediately lose funding, but they can lose it the following school year.

“While there are signs of encouragement,” said Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, “we are fully committed to supporting school communities that are struggling with enrollment by providing additional resources through equity grants and a budgeting approach that promotes stability.”

The district announced in the spring a small school grant program that will disburse $31 million among 219 elementary and high schools with struggling enrollment. 

Amid a district-wide expansion of preschool for 4-year-olds, the district reported 1,421 more 4-year-olds to total 14,300, offsetting a similar-sized drop in the number of 3-year-olds. As part of its universal pre-K expansion, the district has reduced the number of half-day classroom slots for 3-year-olds in lieu of expanding the number of full-day seats for 4-year-olds. 

The number of students enrolled in charters declined slightly, from 54,569 last year to 53,415 this fall. Similarly, the number of high schoolers enrolled in alternative or “options” schools also dipped, from 2,317 last year to 2,176, the district said Friday.

Chicago closed 50 schools in 2013 because of low enrollment, then district leaders agreed to a moratorium on school closings for five years. Once the moratorium lifted, the district announced a plan to shutter 4 high schools in Englewood and open a new $85 million high school to replace them. The new high school, Englewood STEM, opened this fall with an inaugural freshman class of 414.

National statistics tend to lag behind local ones, but public school enrollment was still growing, albeit slowly, according to the most recent data from the National Center on Education Statistics.

Here’s how the five largest districts in the country stack up: New York City schools latest public count was 1,126,501 for last school year, followed by Los Angeles Unified (557,560 for K-12). Chicago comes in third, followed by Miami Dade at fourth (347,069), and Clark County, Nevada, at fifth (320,703 for K-12). 

Some districts include pre-K in their tallies, while others don’t. Chicago includes pre-K in its final numbers.