A look at New York State public school enrollment trends in 2022-23

Jan 8, 2024 | Blog

New York State public schools continue to experience enrollment declines exacerbated by the pandemic. Public schools in the state have seen enrollment decline for the better part of the last decade, which worsened during the 2020-2021 school year, the first full school year in the pandemic. Data from the 2022-2023 school year, however, shows that the declines have finally begun to slow.

An analysis of final enrollment data of NYS public schools for school year 2022-2023 by The Education Trust–New York finds that while enrollment is still trending down and public schools have had large enrollment losses, these declines are slowing down from their pandemic highs. Statewide and in the largest school districts, enrollment losses were greatest in the 2020-2021 school year, but have since largely reverted to their pre-pandemic levels this past school year. Meanwhile, charter schools have seen increases in enrollment in the same time frame as traditional public schools have seen decreases, however much more slowly than before the pandemic, with only a 1% increase in the 2022-2023 school year.

While traditional public schools continue to be where most school-aged children, almost 2.5 million in New York alone, are educated in the United States, many factors are leading families to choose other options, from charter schools to homeschooling to private institutions.

Enrollment is particularly critical to school funding as school budgets are tied to the number of pupils enrolled. Budget cuts due to funding losses can lead to teacher layoffs, elimination of advanced courses, additional programs for literacy and math, and college access and affordability support in higher grades, among other work in schools that contribute to greater educational equity. Districts were able to curb some enrollment-related cuts to schools immediately after the pandemic thanks to federal relief funding, which will be winding down by the end of this school year.

There is hope on the horizon, as enrollment declines are slowing down. While state and district leadership should still prepare for the fiscal implications of continued enrollment decline, and as ESSER funding ends in 2024, the slowdown in enrollment loss is an important milestone after the pandemic school years. The influx of students from asylum-seeker families in cities across the state is highlighting the need for more robust bilingual language instruction in schools, as well as additional support for students in temporary housing. It will be important to monitor where enrollment declines are steepest, and where funding losses are likely to be highest, as gains towards greater equity in those districts and schools may be in danger.

The interactive data tool below outlines our key findings.

Among the findings:

  • Finding 1: From 2017-2018 to 2022-2023, NYS has seen an 8% decrease in total public school enrollment, including charter schools.
    • From the 2017-2018 school year to 2022-2023, the state lost over 200,000 students in public schools. The percentage decrease year over year, however, shows that declines may be slowing down from their pandemic highs in the 2020-2021 and 2021-22 school years. School year 2022-23 saw a 1% drop in enrollment from the previous year.
    • Finding 2: Charter schools continued to see increases in enrollment, while traditional public school enrollment declined. The increases in charter school enrollment have slowed over time.
      • The enrollment declines in NYS public schools can largely be attributed to lower enrollment in traditional public schools, as charter schools in the state saw increases in enrollment in the same time frame. Those increases were at a high just before the pandemic, in school year 2019-2020, and have been slowing, quite drastically to an only 1% increase from school year 2021-2022 to 2022-2023.
    • Finding 3: The biggest districts in the state have had major declines in enrollment since school year 2017-2018.
      • The Big 5 school districts and Albany have seen large declines in enrollment from school year 2017-18 to 2022-23, and Rochester in particular has had the largest decline of these districts. New York City, the largest district in the country, has also seen a 15% decline in enrollment since 2017-18. Enrollment declines seem to be slowing from their pandemic highs, however, for all of the districts except Rochester. New York City had an enrollment decline of only 2% from 2021-22 to 2022-23, as compared to their loss of 6% from 2020-21 to 2021-22.