PURPOSE

To support school leaders and education partners in data-driven decision-making, New Schools for New Orleans is conducting an Enrollment Landscape Analysis.  

This analysis is designed to deliver insight related to the effects of enrollment changes on the citywide portfolio of schools. Impacts include programmatic sustainability, facility utilization, family choice, and access to quality.  

Our hope is that this analysis will raise awareness of enrollment challenges impacting our city to inform future decision making at the school- and system-level. 

The full report and all back-up data are linked below.

Special thanks to NOLA-PS, LDOE, The Data Center, and school leaders for providing data, feedback, and thought partnership in developing this analysis.

ANALYSIS APPROACH

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

Slowing population growth and birth rates change the city’s demographics  

Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, our city’s population had shrunk to less than half of what it had been before the storm. In the years that followed, however, our population grew swiftly, and continued to rise until five years ago, when it stopped growing. Today, our city still has 20% fewer people than it did before Hurricane Katrina. 

Not only do we have fewer people overall, but the population has a smaller proportion of children. In 2000, around one-third of our city’s households included children under 18 years old. By 2019, only 17% of New Orleans households included children under age 18. Meanwhile, the number of babies born in Orleans Parish has also been steadily declining. We have seen a 14% drop within five years; around 700 fewer babies were born in New Orleans in 2020 than in 2015.

A changing enrollment landscape 

Within just a few years, the decrease in birth rate alone means there are fewer students here to enroll in our city’s kindergarten classrooms and enter our public schools. Our kindergarten class in 2021-22 was the smallest in over ten years–16% smaller than it was in 2014, representing a difference of about 650 students; this number represents more than the entire student body of an average-sized school. Year by year, as these smaller classes move through grade levels, our public school enrollment will decrease further.   

Explanations we ruled out 

As we investigated these trends, we looked at many potential causes of the shifts. As we gained certainty that the city’s slowing population growth and decreasing birth rates are at the root of the dipping enrollment, we were also able to “rule out” other hypotheses.

  • Were declines caused by COVID? No, declines were already happening pre-COVID.
  • Were more families choosing private schools? No, private school enrollment has been declining at a faster rate than public schools and now serve a lower percentage of students.
  • Were more families moving to nearby parishes? No, most nearby parishes are experiencing similar enrollment declines.
What’s next?

Given these trends, we expect enrollment to either be roughly flat over the next few years by returning to pre-pandemic levels, or continue to decline at similar levels each year. 

Even without future enrollment declines, our system’s current under-enrollment is already creating challenges for our schools. This year, for instance, only 84% of open “spots” in our open enrollment public schools across the city were filled. Because our schools are funded on a “per pupil” basis – a set amount of dollars for each student the school enrolls – open spots mean schools will need to make tough decisions about limited resources across classrooms while managing ongoing fixed, or unchangeable costs, like facility maintenance, utilities, and some staffing and materials. 

As a result of these pressures, two New Orleans public schools chose to close voluntarily at the end of the 2021-22 school year. These closures, plus two additional school closures due to low academic performance, will mean that there are fewer open spots. However, at the same time, some schools are continuing to add grades to their schools or attempting to increase the number of students they serve in existing grades. 

This is a difficult problem, and there are many decisions NOLA-PS and charter schools must make to address it. 

At NSNO, we will continue to support the district and our schools in facing this challenge. Through collaboration, we can find a way to ensure all children can access a high-quality education, even as enrollment declines. As our student population shifts, our commitment to students will not change.


FILES

NSNO’s Enrollment Landscape Analysis
Background and Source Data used for Enrollment Landscape Analysis

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