Chicago student enrollment dropped by 6,000, but union blocks closing schools

Chicago student enrollment dropped by 6,000, but union blocks closing schools

The new contract continues a moratorium on school closings despite plummeting student enrollment.

Chicago Public Schools’ latest enrollment report shows the city lost over 6,000 students since 2018, bringing enrollment down to 355,155.

CPS has lost students nearly every year since 2000. Roughly 80,000 students, or 18% of the district’s enrollment, have been lost during that period. Half of that loss came in the past five years.

School administrators said more enrollments in all-day preschool and kindergarten has helped make the numbers better than previous years. CPS added 2,800 additional preschoolers this year.

Many of the district’s 642 schools have seen their enrollment numbers drop significantly during the past 10 school years. CPS estimates there are 150,000 empty seats in its schools. Some have lost between 70% and 90% of their students. Manley High School in East Garfield Park was using just 7% of its capacity for only 114 students in fall 2017 compared to 1,221 in fall 2007, according to an analysis by the Chicago Tribune.

Despite falling numbers, the schools cannot be closed and more taxpayer dollars are pushed into them. The Chicago Teachers Union’s new contract calls for at least $627 million in new costs, although CPS has claimed the cost is as high as $1.5 billion, and will continue the policy that does not allow failing or near-empty schools to be closed. State law ensures funding will not decrease even if enrollment declines.

While CTU leaders commonly claim CPS is underfunded by the city and state, that is simply not the case. CPS students are some of the highest funded public school students in Illinois. CTU leaders also claim the schools should remain open because they are the foundations of neighborhoods, yet slightly less than 60% of elementary students attend the school assigned to them by where they live.

As enrollment has quickly dropped, spending per student has been on a steady rise. Illinois State Board of Education numbers show CPS spent just over $8,000 per student in 2000 when 435,470 students were enrolled. Although enrollment has dropped by 18% since then, estimates show CPS spent over $17,000 per student in the 2017-2018 academic year.

CPS has a junk credit rating according to Moody’s Investors Service. Going into the current school year, the district had about $8.4 billion in debt and was projected to spend about $850 million on pensions. The teacher’s strike and new CTU contact will do the district no financial favors.

The latest contract calls for a 24% to 48% salary increase over the next five years. But the district is also projected to continue losing students. With a higher budget, no school closings and irresponsible financial policies from CPS all the way to Springfield, the district has no real plan to fix its problems.

CPS leaders say enrollment decline can be blamed on fewer adults having children and more people moving out of the city. CTU leaders blame it on past and present mayors, and the lack of investment by an already broke state in livable wages, affordable housing and public education. Neither side takes responsibility for their role in declining enrollment.

Excessive contract demands, efforts to limit school choice, a failure to recognize academic and structural problems and poor fiscal policy are what are driving students away from CPS. Unless union and district leaders face why CPS is continuing to fail, more students will leave the district. Then Chicago and state taxpayers will be on the hook for the cost of too many schools with too few children to teach.

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