NYC school enrollment declines expected to level off next fall

After years of drastic enrollment declines at the public schools, New York City expects to considerably stem the tide.

Projections released Monday suggest close to 767,500 students could enroll in kindergarten through 12th grade next school year — a 0.6% decrease since last fall and by far the smallest annual drop since the pandemic began. The figure did not include some special education and alternative programs.

The leveling could fend off deep budget cuts based on lower enrollment that many schools faced going into this academic year.

“While projections are not perfect, they serve as a useful tool for schools to plan and prepare for the number of students they will have and the resources they will need,” said Education Department spokesman Nathaniel Styer.

More than 100,000 fewer children are on the rosters since the pandemic, due in part to declining birth rates and families permanently leaving the city.

As schools began the Herculean task of catching students up on missed classroom time, their budgets were held stable — but Mayor Adams began to phase out the policy last year. At the time school allocations were calculated, officials expected enrollment would plummet by 3.9%.

The cuts led to a summer of protests, as some schools had to let go of beloved teachers and staff and trim programming. Advocates bird-dogged Adams, and a coalition of parents and teachers sued to undo the damage — an effort ultimately blocked by an appellate court.

The actual drop in enrollment wound up being much smaller. In the months that followed, public schools welcomed an estimated 16,000 migrant students — a ballpark figure based on the number of new children living in temporary housing this school year.

Still, the Education Department is staring down a $959 million drop in funding next year if current budget plans are approved, as an infusion of federal pandemic aid dwindles and Adams ordered further cuts.

“There’s absolutely no excuse to cut school budgets or the capital plan based off such a tiny decrease in enrollment,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of the nonprofit Class Size Matters.

Some temporary funding will be used to cover $160 million — but not all — of the budget gaps principals otherwise would have faced next year due to enrollment changes since the pandemic began. The Panel for Educational Policy, which governs the city’s public schools, also gave final approval last week to a plan to disburse tens of millions more dollars across the neediest schools.

Principals are expected to receive their schools’ budget allocations later this spring.