Jul 13, 2022 - News

D.C. public school enrollment slows

Students get off of a school bus and walk into the school building.
Photo: Allison Shelley/The Washington Post via Getty Images

D.C. public schools’ enrollment growth slowed to a crawl during the pandemic. And it’s not likely to substantially increase in the near future, according to a D.C. Policy Center report released today.

Why it matters: If current enrollment trends continue, there will be big impacts on D.C. public and public charter school budgets.

By the numbers: According to the Policy Center, D.C.’s public schools (DCPS and public charters combined) gained on average 1,598 new students each year from the 2007-08 school year to the 2019-20 school year. 

  • The pandemic school years have seen a dramatic drop, to an average of 29 new students each year.

What’s happening: Washingtonians are having fewer kids. The birth rate has been dropping since 2017, as more residents of childbearing age leave the city. As a result, there are fewer children entering the District's public school system. 

The second factor contributing to stagnating enrollment growth is decreased interest in public schools – as evidenced by lower student retention.

What’s next: If these trends continue, the Policy Center predicts that the 2026-27 school year could have 6,000 fewer students than the 2021-22 school year. 

Between the lines: Last month we reported on D.C.’s increased public school enrollment among middle and high school students. This is the result of larger cohorts aging up and fewer dropouts. 

  • Yes, but: Currently decreasing enrollment in elementary schools indicates that over time D.C. public schools could see a drop in enrollment among older students, too.

The bottom line: In order for enrollment growth to return to pre-pandemic levels, retention has to go back up, and if it doesn't, the birth rate would have to substantially increase, which is unlikely according to the Policy Center’s findings.

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