The school enrollment problem: ‘It’s a trend going on across the state’

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — For the last 20 years, every single district in our area, except Victor, lost students. Sometimes thousands of them. The loss of 11,600 students in the city is one reason RCSD is changing schools and closing some buildings.

Berkeley Brean, News10NBC: “Where have all the children gone?”
Jeff Smink, Education Trust NY: “Yeah, it’s a trend that’s going on across the state and across the country.”

Jeff Smink runs Education Trust New York, a group that pushes for equity in schools.

News10NBC found the enrollment data for our schools. In the last 20 years and in some districts it’s gone down 34%, 25%, 33%, and 20%. Combined, that’s thousands of students.

Smink says it’s low birth rates and more kids in charter schools and home schooled.

Smink: “So, I think we have the combination of the lower birth rate, but we also see examples of parents voting with their feet.”
Brean: “What are the implications here for school districts?”
Smink: “There’s a lot of implications. So certainly it affects funding.”

Eight years ago News10NBC showed you how enrollments were going down while school budgets kept going up.

Brean: “How do we reconcile that – that we’ve got fewer kids but the districts are spending more money?”
Smink: “That’s a great question. So, there’s been a big increase in public funding in recent years both from the federal government and the state government. So that’s a piece of it. But I think what we’re seeing is that a lot of districts have been putting off these hard decisions. So at some point, we’ve got to make those tough choices and I think districts, if they don’t do it now, they’re going to have to do it soon because those federal dollars are running out this year.”

Here’s why the trend continues.

News10NBC searched the enrollment numbers in 12th grade and kindergarten classes in our school districts. In about 65% of the cases, the kindergarten number is lower.

Twenty years ago, the city school enrollment was 33,898. The superintendent predicts it will 13,947 in 10 years.

Smink says schools should do exit interviews with families that leave to understand why they left.