Analysis finds pandemic accelerated declining student enrollment in every region of the state

by | Feb 9, 2023 | Press Release

NEW YORK – While New York State schools have been experiencing declining enrollment for much of the past decade, a new analysis released today found that the pandemic accelerated this trend in every region in the state, driving the largest enrollment loss in the nation between 2019-20 and 2021-22. 

New York State’s public schools — traditional and charter — serve approximately 2.5 million school-aged students. And while traditional public schools continue to serve the vast majority of New York’s K-12 students, the analysis suggests that parents are making new and interesting choices about where their children attend school, signaling that our traditional school systems may not be meeting the needs of New York families.

The analysis of school enrollment trends over the past five years reveals major shifts across the state, showing decreases at traditional public and private schools and significant increases at charters and homeschools. 

Among the findings:  

  • In every region of the state, traditional public school enrollment fell between the 2017-18 and 2021-22 school years; 
  • New York traditional public school and private school enrollment declines were largest in the elementary grades during the first year of the pandemic; 
  • Enrollment in New York public charter schools and homeschools increased during this period; 
  • Traditional public schools experienced a decrease in enrollment of students from both low-income and non-low-income backgrounds during this period, while charter schools experienced an increase in both — 26% for students from low-income backgrounds and 40% for students from non-low-income backgrounds; 
  • Even with changes in enrollment, traditional public schools continue to serve the most racially diverse groups of students; 
  • The Rochester City School District (RCSD) and New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) experienced the most dramatic enrollment declines out of the state’s largest city districts in five years.  

The analysis also offers an opportunity for state and local education leaders to sharpen their focus on community engagement, high-quality instructional materials, and better student outcomes to help stem these enrollment declines by: 

  • Creating infrastructure for authentic parent engagement; 
  • Collecting and sharing the bright spots; 
  • Examining the root causes of enrollment changes; 
  • Investing in a cradle-to-career state longitudinal data system;
  • Providing support and technical assistance to districts to address chronic absenteeism and re-engagement of students who stopped attending school during the pandemic; 
  • Providing more engaging and rigorous educational options for students. 

 “Unquestionably, the ongoing pandemic is affecting the educational experiences of students and families, and this analysis suggests that impact may be prompting parents to make new choices for their children,” said Dia Bryant, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “Our state would benefit from state and local leaders further examining why parents are making these choices, and how all schools can do a better job offering students and families the resources and experiences they most value in an education system – particularly in this moment where schools across New York State are recovering from years of interrupted instruction and working to find innovative ways to reengage students and their families.”