How would it be if New York City’s K-12 enrollments for government-run school are so embarrassingly low?
This week, the unambiguous question is being asked not only by liberty-minded school-choice advocates and ornery local tabloids but also by Democratic Party heavyweights leading up the Education Committee of the City Council and the largest local teacher union.
Mark Treyger, City Council Education Honcho asked Donald Conyers (Department of Education) at Wednesday’s hearing: “How many students have we currently enrolled in the public school system?”
This seems to be a straightforward question. Conyers responded, “And I will respectfully tell you,” Conyers said. “But I don’t currently have this number.”
The delivery of the DOE number has been held up almost as long as expected. Maverick is the Top Gun. On September 14, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the first-day-of-school attendance rate from the day before was a scientific-sounding 82.4 percent—”clearly better than some people feared or thought might happen, but not as high as the last time we had a first day of school before the pandemic, when it was about 90 percent.” De Blasio, upon cross-examination admitted that he could not produce the numerator and the denominator of that calculation. New York’s Department of Education hides important information concerning school enrollment and attendance, according to the New York Daily NewsConclusion in an editorial
Meisha Porter (Chief of NYC Schools) promised reporters that when we reach full attendance across the system, the numbers will be shared with the media. This point was delayed to October 31 after three weeks. Only then, because the deadline to report enrollment to the state has passed.
At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, President Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), claimed that “they know how many children didn’t turn up.” “They are hiding this….We’re playing this game of, ‘I’m not going to tell you what’s wrong because politically it might not work for us.'”
The local politics of school-enrollment numbers are as complicated as they are unnecessary for non-New Yorkers to grok, though the reality of families continuing to flee government-operated schools seems likely to challenge policy makers and infuriate taxpayers from coast to coast as the 2021–22 data roll in. Teachers unions across the Big Apple are upset at being required to follow a mandate for workplace vaccinations that was in effect on Monday. De Blasio also insists that remote learning is not an option. According to the UFT, teachers would be justified in claiming that parents who doubt their ability need remote options and more rigorous testing for those students not yet vaccinated.
The numbers are also poor in areas where union rules have been implemented. Los Angeles Unified school District (LAUSD), second in size, has seen its enrollment plummet by shockingly 6 percent since the start of the 2021-22 school years. This is after a 4 percent decline the previous year. The LAUSD, one of the country’s most-closed big-city systems in 2020–21 despite Southern California’s temperate weather, has the nation’s most aggressive COVID-19 testing regime (every student and staffer, every week, regardless of vaccination status), plus vaccine mandates on teachers and students aged 12 and older.
United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which has received concession after concession form the Democratic political establishment in Los Angeles, is currently looking at a 10 percent decline in customer base, over a period of two years, for a product that’s free. The number of teacher union jobs will be affected by this.
Aaron Garth Smith from Reason Foundation, Director of Education Reform noted this week InsideSourcesThe state funds schools first based upon student enrollment. Therefore, after many decades of bureaucratic bloat public schools might face budget cuts or growing deficits if it fails to win back parents’ trust. Smith stated that if the enrollment drop in LAUSD continues, then “the district could expect to receive approximately $250 million less state funding than what it would otherwise get.”
Per-student funding is crucial. This week, the enrollment-squeaking Detroit Public Schools offered Pistons tickets to students if they attended every class on “count day”. Eight teachers were fired from a Brooklyn elementary school after its enrollment declined by one-third over the past two years.
New York City K-12 enrollment declined at least 4 percent in 2020–21, even while charter schools increased by more than 7 percent. In all 50 US states, the nationwide decline in enrollment was 3 percent. The number of homeschoolers has doubled in that time.
It is unclear whether these figures are an aberration of a pandemic or if they represent an inflection. Millions upon millions of parents confronted the administration of public schools over the past year. I was one among them. All across the United States, recalls have been launched against school board members. Public school meeting contentiousness has become the 2021 counterpart to summer 2009’s congressional townhalls. Angering constituents have gathered at the polls to express their dismay, down to media panicking and increased law enforcement awareness.
The long-term course of public education as well as the policies that fund it are important, but the immediate issue of who those student-missing students will be is urgent. These areIt is. Without a baseline attendance count, you can’t track education progress and assess outreach efforts towards those stuck in remote learning.
Treyger stated that “this should be simple.” She introduced legislation to require the DOE’s enrollment data. This should not be controversial. I find it unacceptable that we do not share the number of students enrolled in our schools right now. And, quite frankly, further erodes trust with the public….It is unfathomable to me—and insulting to this committee and to the public—that they will not share the attendance data and information.”