The New York City Education Department is projecting public school enrollment will fall by another 30,000 students next year — bringing more financial pain to schools already facing steep cuts, the Daily News has learned.
Enrollment in the city’s K-12 schools already cratered by nearly 90,000 from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to Dec. 31, 2021, the last time student numbers were officially measured.
Education Department officials are expecting that slide to continue into next school year, predicting a drop from 790,000 students in 2021-2022 to 760,000 next fall, according to the DOE’s annual enrollment projections, which the agency is releasing publicly for the first time.
City schools receive, at minimum, $4,200 per student through the city’s Fair Student Funding Formula, so a projected citywide enrollment loss of 30,000 cuts $126 million, at the very least, from school budgets. And that comes on top of $215 million the city is already slashing from school coffers based on enrollment losses last year.
The annual enrollment projections are critical for schools, dictating how much money principals receive each spring for the upcoming year. The figures have come under unusual scrutiny this year ― with some critics arguing that the estimate for next year is overly pessimistic.
City Comptroller Brad Lander called the projections “flawed,” arguing they rely “on trendlines from the pandemic-related declines of the past two years to forecast further registration losses for the fall, despite reason to believe school enrollments will stabilize.”
The DOE’s Office of Student Enrollment said the projections are based on trendlines going back two or three years and stood by the accuracy of next year’s numbers, arguing there’s no reason to believe pandemic enrollment declines will level off.
If anything, the DOE’s enrollment calculations over the last two years have significantly overestimated the number of students in the system, the data shows.
The agency overestimated enrollment by 18,000 students in the 2020-2021 school year and by 31,000 in the last year, DOE data shows.
In pre-pandemic years, the city forced any school whose enrollment fell short of the Education Department’s projection to give back its extra per-pupil cash in the winter.
That meant schools received much more funding than they normally would have based on their student numbers.
Some school leaders said the “extra” pandemic funding allowed them to provide an appropriate baseline of services for the first time.
“2021 felt like the first time in my 16 yrs in the DOE where we were getting close to being able to provide all kids with the supports and opportunities they deserved,” Michael Perlberg, the principal of Middle School 839 in Brooklyn, tweeted last month.
But the flush days for city principals came crashing to a halt this spring when Mayor Adams and schools Chancellor David Banks ended the pandemic enrollment budget reprieve.
Adams and the City Council agreed to move forward with the $375 million cut the city postponed last year, using $160 million in federal stimulus money to offset the cut for a net loss of $215 million for schools.
But that $215 million cut didn’t include the additional slashes to school budgets based on next year’s projected enrollment losses, which raise the total school budget reduction to $372 million, according to analysis from Lander’s office.
Roughly 650 principals, or 43%, challenged the DOE’s initial enrollment projection, according to the Office of Student Enrollment — up from 540 last year. About two-thirds of principals who challenged it thought their projection was too low, and one-third said it was too high.
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.