Study reveals decline in DC school enrollment, what’s expected in coming years

School enrollment numbers in D.C. are projected to decline, the latest shift after years of growth in its public and charter schools.

The study, released by the local research group D.C. Policy Center, shows enrollment didn’t change much during the pandemic and before the pandemic — D.C. public and charter schools experienced a steady increase in numbers and that was expected to continue.

The study shows between school years 2007-08 and 2019-20, enrollment increased by 19,177 students in prekindergarten through grade 12, an average of 1,598 students per year. When looking at 2020-21 and 2021-22, enrollment began to fall off, with an average of only 29 students beginning school in the District each year.

D.C. currently has some 87,000 students enrolled. The study predicts that the number could fall to 81,000 by 2026.

The causes include families leaving the city or pulling students out of schools for options, such as home schooling, and a declining birthrate. The birthrate has declined by 2.3% each year since 2016, according to the study with another from the Brookings Institution expecting the trend to continue after the pandemic.

Families opting out of pre-K have also contributed to the low numbers. Those decisions are cause for concern when it comes to the budget, which depends on enrollment.

While the study did acknowledge there are many unknown factors and possible scenarios, including the possibility all students who left during the pandemic would return, it warns that “school planning may have to be readjusted to reconcile with the realities of lower enrollment.”

The school system “should start anticipating these changes and prepare for hard decisions, especially if enrollment does not show signs of a rebound in 2022-23,” the study said.

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Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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