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New report details factors in CPS enrollment drop

The number of children attending Chicago public schools has fallen precipitously over the past 20 years, and a new report examines three major drivers that it says have contributed to the well-documented decline.

In 2000, more than 430,000 students attended a Cincinnati Public School; This is 100,000 more than the 330,000 students enrolled in this academic year. Losing students could have significant funding consequences if the decline continues.

The report, prepared by Kids First Chicago, asserts that the decline in public school enrollment rates has been driven by a decline in the birthrate, along with slowing growth of Hispanic families and the continued emigration of black families from Chicago.

“If CPS enrollment is not reversed, declining revenues from the state, along with significant fixed costs, will inevitably force CPS schools and individual schools to make difficult decisions in the coming years,” said Daniel Anelo, CEO of Kids First Chicago. “It is difficult to understand a scenario in which student outcomes improve and opportunity gaps close while CPS faces a decline in annual revenue due to lower student enrollment.”

The report, the first in a two-part series, sheds light on the root causes of school district enrollment problems. Kids First plans to produce a second report to provide some solutions from parents who live or have lived in Chicago.

“We are an education advocacy organization, specifically targeting and trying to bring the voices of parents into system and policy change whether it’s at the city or state level,” Anello said. “Our goal is how do we provide facts and data to families, have them arm us with what they hear on the ground, in this case we’ve been looking at recording trends and having conversations for years.”

The bar graph shows the decline in Chicago public school enrollment rates, which peaked in 2002 and reached its lowest levels in 2021.

Some of the factors that affect school attendance are beyond CPS’s control, said Hal Woods, head of policy at Kids First Chicago, such as the decline in the number of children born each year — what he called a “structural gap.”

Woods said that in 2009, 44,000 babies were born each year in Chicago. Now that’s down to 33,000, he added, “because rates are going down, people are having fewer children, but also because there are fewer people here, so fewer children are being born.”

In 2021, fewer than 22,000 kindergarteners were enrolled in CPS — about 8,000 fewer than enrolled in 2009, according to the report.

Woods said the decline in birth numbers is particularly staggering among Latinas, which he believes can happen for a range of reasons — such as the cost of childcare or couples waiting to have children.

Also behind these low enrollment figures is a 15% decrease in Mexican immigrants coming to Chicago over the past decade.

Woods speculates that this decline can be attributed to a more stable Mexican economy, stricter immigration policies, and increased housing costs caused by gentrification.

According to the report, Latino neighborhoods facing gentrification, such as Pilsen, Little Village and Humboldt Park, have seen a 22% drop in school enrollment in just the past five years.

The final driving factor the report highlights is the exodus of black families from Chicago. The city lost 85,000 black residents between 2010 and 2020, and families have attributed their departure to their neighborhoods stripped of amenities and resources.

“While other population groups have experienced a decline based primarily on total births, the decline in the black population is due to a mass exodus of these families from the city,” the report said.

More than 85% of black and Latino children are enrolled in Chicago public schools, which is close to 80% of Asian children. In contrast, only 55% of white school-aged children who live in the city are CPS students.

What that means is that for every 10 school-aged black children who leave school, eight are likely to be CPS students. So when you leave a black family, there is a greater chance that it will also affect your CPS than when you leave a white family.

Woods said there are signs of hope.

He said that many families of departing blacks are not going very far — to the suburbs within Cook County, to white-collar counties or perhaps to nearby Northwest Indiana.

If the city gives black families a reason to come back by investing in neighborhoods, Wood said, they will.

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