Detroit school district enrollment figures dip as year begins

Students raise their hands to answer a question.
Student enrollment numbers in the Detroit Public Schools Community District have lagged in recent years as district officials continue to bounce back from pandemic-related losses. (Elaine Cromie / Chalkbeat)

Early attendance and enrollment data show a steady decline in the number of students in the Detroit school district, adding to pandemic-related enrollment losses.

About 51,600 K-12 students were enrolled in the Detroit Public Schools Community District as of Friday, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at a school board academic committee meeting Monday. That’s down from about 52,300 at this time last year, and roughly 53,000 students at the start of the 2021-22 school year, according to district reports.

Of the 51,600 enrollees, roughly 88%, or just over 45,000 students, had attended school for at least one day; a year earlier, that figure was 47,000, or about 90%. 

“As of right now, I’m not concerned by these numbers,” Vitti told committee members Monday, noting that two early dismissals last week for extreme heat affected the 2023-24 attendance numbers. 

“I think this week will give a better indicator of where we are,” he said.

The school year began Aug. 28.

Each year, DPSCD officials share enrollment and attendance data from the first couple weeks of the new school year. These numbers provide an early gauge of enrollment patterns ahead of Michigan’s two official Count Days, in October and February, when the number of students attending school is tallied for the purposes of allocating state funding.

Enrollment numbers can fluctuate over the course of the year as families move into and out of the city, or send their children to different schools, even after initially enrolling in DPSCD. At the end of last school year, K-12 enrollment was 48,000, well below the figure of the start of the year, and down about 2,000 students from before the pandemic.

Improving student attendance and enrollment has been a major priority for officials in DPSCD and districts across Michigan, especially in recent years given the pandemic’s impact. The district used part of its federal COVID relief aid to expand its family outreach and door-to-door canvassing initiatives.

But as that aid dries up, DPSCD plans to spend less money this year on enrollment strategies. Instead, it will use a smaller budget to market specific schools with available seats and promote the district through school employees and families. 

DPSCD’s average daily attendance and chronic absenteeism figures improved last year, inching toward pre-pandemic figures.

In 2022-23, the district’s average daily attendance rate was 81.6%, up from 76% the year before, compared with 83.1% before the pandemic. The chronic absenteeism rate was 68% at the end of the last school year, down from 77% the year before.

But that still means more than two-thirds of DPSCD students missed 10% or more of the school year.

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

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