Baltimore school enrollment drops to lowest level in 10 years


Enrollment in Baltimore City schools has fallen to its lowest number in a decade, with 1,700 fewer students this year.

The drop comes as Baltimore’s overall population also continues to decline. Yet declining student numbers are an acute problem in a district that funds its schools based on student enrollment. The school system loses thousands of dollars in public funding for every student who leaves the district.

The CEO of the city’s schools, Sonja Santelises, describes the crisis as “part of the ecology of the city”. Baltimore has bled residents for years, with the population almost the same size as a century ago.

“Families coming in and going out – it affects us,” Santelises said. “We crouch down. … I hope we will see a tick on the rise.

Baltimore City Schools Enrollment

Student enrollment in Baltimore City schools declined for the 2017-18 school year, down 2% from the previous year. The number of registrations has fluctuated over the years, but this year’s numbers are the lowest in a decade.

Year Number of students enrolled
2008 81,284
2009 82,266
2010 82,866
2011 83,800
2012 84,212
2013 84,747
2014 84 730
2015 84,976
2016 83,666
2017 82,354
Current school year 80,592

Source: Maryland State Department of Education

At the same time, registrations in surrounding counties have increased. More than 1,000 students joined the Baltimore County school system this year, bringing the total enrollment to about 113,280.

“Families vote with their feet and they say they want to be in Baltimore County,” said economist Anirban Basu, of the Sage Policy Group.

The city’s loss comes as it grapples with rising crime and near historic homicide rates. And last year – when families were making decisions about the next school year – Santelises revealed that the district was facing a $ 130 million deficit, shaking some parents’ confidence in the system. The deficit was itself due in part to years of declining enrollment.

State and city lawmakers subsequently pledged money to help bridge the gap. Santelises said she did not expect this year’s drop to create another serious budget crisis, thanks to new legislation that will allow school systems to use a three-year moving average to count students.

This method is “a fair way to do it,” said Bebe Verdery, director of the Maryland ACLU’s education reform project, because “the ongoing costs of a school system do not decrease in proportion to the loss. of pupils “.

While families are largely the ones leaving the city, Basu said, a flood of young professionals are moving into new developments in Baltimore. Those 20 and over will soon turn 30 and over, seeking schools for their children.

“As enrollments decline, schools weaken,” said Basu, a former member of the city’s school board. “We need a situation where the schools are getting stronger so that we can hold these kids as they grow into families. “

The drop also comes as some families withdraw their children completely from public schools. Governor Larry Hogan started a program in 2016 to provide thousands of Maryland students from low-income families with taxpayer-funded vouchers they can use to attend private or religious schools. Over 900 Students in Baltimore – far more than any other county – received one of those vouchers this school year, state data showed as of Oct. 30.

Over the summer, teachers ran a citywide enrollment drive, knocking on doors with shirts that read “Bring Back Baltimore, One Child at a Time.” They spent weeks looking for students who dropped out and persuading them to give their education another chance.

Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English said the campaign ended with 329 new students enrolled in pre-K and 17 former dropouts re-enrolled. She hopes to resume the program next year.

Santelises launched an enlistment task force in November, aimed at stemming the losses in the district. It brings together representatives from the mayor’s office, Baltimore-based businesses like Under Armor, and community organizations like Family League. The group will present its recommendations to Santelises before the next school year.

“We are proactive,” said school board president Cheryl Casciani, who leads the task force. “We don’t just sit down and count the children who leave.”

The group digs into district data to identify areas where students are lost. There are about 1,200 fewer students enrolled in Kindergarten to Grade 5 this year; the high school population has shrunk by over 600 students, while the college has seen slight growth. The drop is felt in every school that loses students, as principals budget around a base amount of $ 5,400 per student.

The district operates a student re-engagement center, which targets students who have dropped out or are at high risk of dropping out and aims to put them on the path to graduation.

“We need to do a better job of finding these students and bringing them back into an environment that supports them and makes them want to stay,” said Santelises chief of staff Alison Perkins-Cohen. “It’s something we have some work to do on. “

Baltimore’s public school population peaked in 1969 at 193,000 students, but has declined nearly 60% since then. The city has seen a similar drop in the number of residents. Baltimore was home to about 940,000 people in 1960, but the population has since declined to less than 615,000 people, according to the latest census data.

The school district already faced steep declines in the early 2000s, but stabilized and expanded during the tenure of former CEO Andres Alonso.

Alonso’s landmark reforms – reorganizing school funding, increasing the number of charter schools, and expanding the choice of schools to include middle and high school programs – have helped increase enrollment, Basu said, who served on the school board under him.

“All of a sudden, a kid from a neighborhood with a struggling school wasn’t doomed to attend that school,” he said. “He had a choice. “

But progress largely stalled after Alonso resigned in 2013. His successor Gregory Thornton saw enrollment plummet once again as a review found hundreds of non-existent “ghost students” were mistakenly kept on the lists. The district’s budget was cut by $ 30 million, in part because 1,900 student spaces were no longer funded by taxpayers.

It is now vital that the district leadership turns the tide, Basu said.

“I have confidence in Sonja that we are going to change this thing,” he said.


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