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Enrollment has declined in school districts nationwide since the onset of the pandemic. The pandemic accelerated enrollment declines in many districts as families switched to homeschoolingcharter schools and other options. Additionally, other students moved away or vanished from school rolls for unknown reasons. The declines appear to be persisting and it is raising concern for schools, particularly bigger school districts. Here’s why: (read on testing coordintaors because it concerns you too!)

Enrollment Status

  • Number of small schools is growing in many American cities as public school enrollment declines.
  • The pandemic accelerated enrollment declines in many districts as families switched to homeschoolingcharter schools and other options.
  • Other students moved away or vanished from school rolls for unknown reasons.
  • Most of these schools were not originally designed to be small, and educators worry the coming years will bring tighter budgets even as schools are still recovering from the pandemic’s disruption. 
  • More schools are on precarious financial footing and families are worried about what happens next.
  • Predominantly Black neighborhoods plagued by disinvestment have been seeing an exodus of families over the past decade.
  • Nationally, schools with more students of color are more likely to be closed, and those in affected communities often feel unfairly targeted

Temporary Support

  • A state law prohibits Chicago from closing or consolidating schools until 2025.
  • Across the U.S., COVID-19 relief money is helping subsidize these shrinking schools.
  • When the money runs out in a few years, officials will face a difficult choice: Keep the schools open despite the financial strain, or close them, upsetting communities looking for stability for their children.


  • Many districts like Chicago give schools money for each student, which means small schools sometimes struggle to pay for fixed costs. 
  • Many allocate extra money to small schools, diverting dollars from larger schools.
  • Small schools are popular with families, teachers and community members because of their tight-knit, supportive feel.
  • Small schools are very expensive and are often stretched thin.
  • We can get some really creative, innovative models, but we need the funding. 

Enrollment Declines

  • Nevertheless, some urban school districts that are losing students.
  • Schools with fewer than 300 students last year:
    • New York City – more than 1 in 5 elementary schools
    • Los Angeles – over 1 in 4
    • Chicago – nearly 1 in 3
    • Boston – approaching 1 in 2
  • Some are considering school closures
  • Earlier this year, the Oakland, California, school board voted to close several small schools despite furious protests.
  • School budgets have been cut as a way to keep more schools open. Tradeoffs are awful.
  • Some focused on luring students back into the system, not school closures


  • Federal relief money will run out soon: districts must budget that money by September 2024.
  • When it does, districts may be hard pressed to keep all of their small schools afloat.
  • It’s a huge problem and it is going to be increasingly difficult for superintendents to justify keeping these places if low enrollment persists.

Testing Implications

  • Enrollment declines put schools are risk of closures, reductions in funding, class sizes, and staff.
  • Each of these has a potential impact on assessment and accountability.
    • School closures – accountability, test coordination and environment as students are shuffled to new schools.
    • Funding – less money translates to less support in all areas, including assessment and related intervention programs and innovations.
    • Class size reductions – this may result in combining grade levels, which may or may not be allowed by state testing rule. If allowed, it will require additional attention and monitoring to prevent testing errors.
    • Staff reductions – this would mean fewer available test administrators to support testing programs.


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