Enrollment in city public schools has fallen below 890,000 students — down from more than a million kids a decade ago, according to internal Department of Education records viewed by The Post.
In late January, DOE officials pegged this year’s enrollment at “approximately 960,000 students” — a 4 percent drop over last year after 43,000 kids exited the system. The latest school registers indicate an additional loss of 70,000 students.
The DOE disputed that number last week — but refused to give the current enrollment. On Saturday night, the DOE released figures based on what it called audited counts on Nov. 13, 2020, putting citywide enrollment at 1,094,138. Then spokeswoman Danielle Filson tweeted that the number was “955,500 DOE students plus charters for a total of 1.1M”
“That’s totally false,” said a Brooklyn principal familiar with the internal records. “Nov. 13 means nothing. The daily reports show up-to-date register totals for the students in each school.”
Clearly, families have left DOE schools in droves since the pandemic threw the system into turmoil, and continue to seek alternatives.
“This year, parents are so unhappy with what they think they’re going to get in September, they’d rather opt for a charter or a private school or leave the city,” said Alina Adams, a mother of three and author who runs the website NYC School Secrets.
Several parents told The Post they have fled the system because the DOE was disorganized and their kids were falling behind. Others say the DOE has diminished its focus on accelerated-learning programs, such as Gifted & Talented, and become more “political” than academic.
“I’m a huge proponent of public school education. I never in my life thought I’d send my kids anywhere else,” said Stefanie Trilling, who is transferring her 6-year-old daughter, Shira, from PS 33 in Manhattan to the $41,000-a-year United Nations International School. “It’s breaking my heart to pull my daughter from a school that we love for the sole reason that the city is undermining one of the programs that made the school so great.”
Natalia Petrzela, who transferred her third-grade daughter from a Manhattan elementary to a pricey private school after Thanksgiving, said, “It transformed her life. She went from this scattershot, hybrid schedule with lots of video, even in the classroom, to five days a week in person with a real live teacher. That was a game changer.”
Petrzela, a history professor at the New School, said she is “extraordinarily privileged” but remains committed to speaking out about the public schools. “I know most families can’t make that choice.”
Others have opted for relatively affordable Catholic schools — even though they are not Catholic.
Kathy Wu Parrino and her husband transferred their daughter, Emma, from PS 101 in Forest Hills to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, which costs about $5,500 a year, last September.
They were frustrated that their first-grader was getting remote assignments without any direction or due dates. The school also “pushed back the curriculum,” Parrino said. “We were told by the teachers, ‘Don’t worry about it. Everybody’s behind.’”
But when Emma started full-time, five-day a week classes at the Catholic school, the other kids were way ahead, the mom said. Emma was put into a remedial reading class through last month.
Parrino found the parochial school “more structured” and even more diverse than the public school. “There are more black and brown students.”
Amy Tse’s daughter, Elizabeth, earned a seat in the elite Bronx HS of Science last year, but the family decided she should accept a full scholarship from Saint Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, which boasts a topnotch STEM program.
“I don’t want anything more to do with the DOE,” Tse said, describing her daughter’s “week of hell” trying to sign up for the specialized school exam. “I feel so bad for the parents who have to deal with the DOE system this year.”
De Blasio, in announcing that schools will fully reopen this fall, declared Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” TV show, “One million kids will be back in their classroom in September, all in person, no remote.”
On that day, however, an internal DOE report reviewed by The Post tallied enrollment at 889,404 students.
The “register” has shown just under 890,000 students since April 29, and just above 890,000 before that. (The figure does not include Early Learn, pre-K and 3K programs run by non-profit community groups, DOE-funded schools for kids with disabilities, or hospital programs.) The total is not attendance, but enrollment, which can change daily as students join or leave the system.
That is a far cry from 2001-2001, when city schools enrolled 1.1 million pupils, or even a decade ago, when 1.04 million students were on the register, according to data from the Independent Budget Office.
The department estimated in January that enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year was 960,000. The fall to under 890,000 marks a roughly 7% decrease this school year, and a 19% decrease from the 2000-2001 peak enrollment.
Friday’s enrollment, according to the daily report, was 889,189.
The sliding enrollment comes even as New York City’s population increased, from 8,008,278 in 2000 to 8,336,817 in 2019, according to the federal Census Bureau.
The recent internal numbers viewed by The Post — which the DOE disputed — are in line with projections made by the mayor’s office in its Fiscal Year 2022 executive budget. That document forecasts DOE enrollment would drop to 898,263 in 2021 — and slip further to 891,971 in 2022.
Expenditures ̶ and employee headcount ̶ are projected to rise over that same period, despite the enrollment decline. City funding is projected to decrease slightly, as state and federal funds rise.
“Lack of stability is one reason parents are leaving,” said David Bloomfield, education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. “It’s probably very important the mayor has called for all in-person schools, five days a week. That’s likely to bump up the enrollment data.”
In November, the education news site Chalkbeat reported that enrollment had fallen 3.4 percent from last school year to 901,000. The DOE at that time said “any declarations about enrollment are premature.”
That decrease coincided with an increase in applications to the city’s Catholic schools, some of them offering two-for-one deals, Adams said. Homeschooling has also increased. The Post reported last November that 10,667 kids were being taught by their own parents or in private “pods.” That tally, made on Oct. 23, was 31 percent, or 2,526 students, higher than the prior year.
Meanwhile, rising charter school enrollment is expected to continue, from 125,798 in 2020 to 135,896 in 2021 and 141,866 in 2022, according to the mayor’s office’s budget projections. Charters are publicly funded but privately run.
DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer disputed a steep enrollment drop, but refused to give a current enrollment figure, saying the department is preparing to release the “fall audited data.”
”We do not report out enrollment data that has not been audited as it would mislead the public and neither should the Post,” he said.
Schools in decline
Enrollment in NYC public schools has declined 19 percent since its 2000-2001 high, and the number of students leaving the system has exploded during the pandemic:
school year/ enrollment:
- 2000-2001: 1.11 million
- 2001-2002: 1.10 million
- 2002-2003: 1.09 million
- 2003-2004: 1.09 million
- 2004-2005: 1.08 million
- 2005-2006: 1.06 million
- 2006-2007: 1.04 million
- 2007-2008: 1.04 million
- 2008-2009: 1.03 million
- 2009-2010: 1.04 million
- 2010-2011: 1.04 million
- 2011-2012: 1.04 million
- 2012-2013: 1.04 million
- 2013-2014: 1.03 million
- 2014-2015: 1.04 million
- 2015-2016: 1.04 million
- 2016-2017: 1.04 million
- 2017-2018: 1.02 million
- 2018-2019: 1.01 million
- 2019-2020: 1.03 million
- Fall 2020: 960,000 (estimated)
- May 28: 889,189
Sources: Independent Budget Office, Department of Education