Jun 1, 2022 - News

Pennsylvania's public school enrollment plunges

Change in enrollment in Pennsylvania public schools
Data: American Enterprise Institute; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Philadelphia students are nearing the end of another school year marked by COVID-19 and plunging enrollment.

Driving the news: The School District of Philadelphia has seen an enrollment decrease of 8.9% since the start of the pandemic, according to a national survey by the American Enterprise Institute and the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College.

  • District officials project a loss of 7,000 students next year, which could reduce the number of teachers allotted by 350, Chalkbeat Philadelphia reports.

Why it matters: School funding is tied directly to enrollment and continued loss could have long-term consequences, such as potentially forcing some schools to close permanently, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

The big picture: Public schools across the country have seen an exodus of students, including in Pennsylvania, where enrollment has dropped nearly 3% from 2020 to 2022.

  • Nationwide, districts with remote classes lost 4.4% of students compared to 1.1% drop for primarily in-person classes, per the AEI survey.

Between the lines: The survey suggests that families who are frustrated with remote learning and other pandemic-related difficulties are likely to toggle their children to other options like charter schools, private schools, or homeschooling.

Of note: The Philly School District returned to in-person learning at the beginning of this school year but has had to toggle to remote learning intermittently amid COVID-19 related staffing issues.

Zoom in: School districts in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties with more than 1,500 students saw enrollment fall by nearly 4% on average from the 2019-20 school year to 2021-22.

  • Enrollment in most school districts outside of the Philly region decreased 2.7% on average during that same period.

Yes, but: Although several Philly-area schools lost enrollment, a few bucked the trend.

  • Among those with increases: Upper Merion (2.7%), Norristown Area School District (2.6%), and Marple Newtown School District (6.3%).

What they're saying: "Urban districts took a disproportionate hit during the pandemic," Nat Malkus, AEI's deputy director of education policy, told Axios. "Philadelphia is not an outlier."

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