As an increasing number of states expand school choice options for families and the U.S. birthrate continues to decline, K-12 school enrollment is evolving as well. Each year MDR examines data on public school enrollment and offers a snapshot of the state of the country’s schools. In 2020-2021, U.S. public school enrollment declined for the first time in a decade with a 3% decrease—equal to roughly 1.5 million pupils. Between 2013 and 2022, the overall decline was 1%.
And the National Center for Education Statistics predicts that public school enrollment will continue to decline. Total public school enrollment is projected to decrease by 5% between fall 2021 and fall 2031 at both the elementary and secondary levels.1
The majority of students (26M) continue to be enrolled in large districts of more than 10,000 students. However, large urban districts have been hit hard by the decrease in public school enrollment. Enrollment in New York City’s public schools, the country’s largest school district, dropped by 8.3% from 2020 to 2022. Charter school enrollment in NYC increased nearly 8% over the same period, mirroring a national trend.2
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has also experienced similar declines. After 11 years of decreasing enrollments, CPS has slipped from the third-largest district in the country to the fourth, after Miami-Dade County Public Schools.3
As in recent years, 55%—just over 26 million—of U.S. public school students are concentrated in 10 states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, and New Jersey.
Why are we seeing these changes in public school enrollment?
One reason is simple: the falling birthrate after the Great Recession in 2008. Between 2008 and 2013, the United States saw nearly a 2.3 million drop in births—babies who would now potentially be enrolled in public school.4
School choice is also on the rise. Just this year, policymakers in 12 states—Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Utah, Indiana, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Utah—expanded school choice options, and now nearly every state offers some educational options for parents to consider.
For more than 30 years, the charter school movement has also seen steady momentum. Today, 45 states and the District of Columbia allow charter schools. In the last nine years, charter school enrollment has increased by 8%.
Plus, over the last decade, there has been growth in homeschooling and other specialty schools, such as learning pods, accelerated by the pandemic and taking a toll on public school enrollment.
And parents are increasingly taking advantage of the educational options available for their children. A May 2023 survey by the National School Choice Awareness Foundation found that 45.9% of parents say they plan to send at least one of their children to a new school this fall, with 51% reporting they want better or safer education environments for their children. Among those most likely to choose new schools are Black parents (60.6%) and Hispanic parents (52.5%).5
Obviously, the K-12 market is evolving, and to be successful, it is important that you understand the trends in K-12 enrollment and where the best opportunities are for your products and services. MDR has the data, insights, and expertise to help you navigate this changing environment. Reach out to us for deeper insights!
1Public School Enrollment