Education Pre K-12
June 13th, 2024 2 Minute Read Press Release

New Report: Public School Enrollment Has Declined in America's Most Populous Cities

Despite declining enrollment, school spending has increased on a per-student basis in many urban districts

NEW YORK, NY — Public-school enrollment in the U.S. is down. Between 2013 and 2023, nationwide enrollment decreased by 2% from 49.9 million to 48.8 million. The largest declines occurred in New York, Illinois, and California—the states with the biggest cities in the country. In a new Manhattan Institute report, senior fellow Daniel DiSalvo and economic policy analyst Reade Ben assess the enrollment picture in America’s most populous cities and find that states and school districts have not responded to enrollment declines by trimming staff or otherwise making commensurate budget cuts. Instead, school spending has increased on a per-student basis in many districts. 

The concurrent enrollment declines and staffing increases across many school districts have introduced a new status quo which will have major fiscal ramifications. Maintaining lower teacher–student ratios and in some cases higher district staffing is expensive. The smaller class sizes are a happy coincidence for teachers’ unions and many parents; however, it may not be in the best interest of the students. The link between class size and student performance is tenuous at best. While class sizes have been falling for decades, student performance has not markedly increased. 

For more than a decade, many states and cities have adopted policies protecting school districts from the fiscal consequences of fewer students, routinely divorcing funding decisions from enrollment trends. Efforts to depart from the new normal will face strong, organized opposition from teachers’ unions and an uphill battle in the court of public opinion. Yet instead of succumbing to these pressures, DiSalvo and Reade suggest policymakers should revisit the debate about how to best allocate resources in the nation’s public schools to ensure optimal student performance.

Click here to view the full report. 


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