Big cities face a crisis of small schools as fewer children are

By MILA KOUMPILOVA and MATT BARNUM of Chalkbeat, COLLIN BINKLEY of The Associated Press – Chalkbeat and Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — Five preschool and kindergarteners completed their paintings on a recent morning inside the Chalmers School of Excellence on Chicago’s West Side. Four staff members, including a teacher and a tutor, talked about colors and shapes.

Summer programs offer one-on-one support that parents love. But behind the scenes, Principal Romian Crockett is concerned that the school is becoming a precarious size.

Chalmers has shrunk to 215 students, losing almost a third of its enrollment during the pandemic. In Chicago, COVID-19 exacerbated a pre-virus decline. Predominantly black neighborhoods such as North Lawndale in Chalmers have long suffered from divestment, but the last decade has seen an exodus of families.

The number of small schools like Chalmers is growing in many American cities. Declining enrollment in public schoolsMore than one in five New York City elementary schools had fewer than 300 students last school year. In Los Angeles, the number was above 1 in 4 for him. In Chicago, he’s nearly one in three, and in Boston he’s closer to one in two, according to Chalkbeat/AP analysis.

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Most of these schools were not originally designed to be small, and educators fear that budgets will become even tighter in the years to come, even as schools are still recovering from the disruption caused by the pandemic. I am concerned about

“When you lose a child, you lose resources,” said Crockett, Chalmers’ principal. “It impacts our ability to serve children who have the greatest need.”

State law prohibits Chicago from closing or consolidating schools until 2025. And her COVID-19 relief across the country is helping subsidize these shrinking schools. But within a few years, the authorities will face a difficult choice as funds run out. Either keep schools open despite financial difficulties, or shut them down, upsetting communities seeking stability for their children.

Yvonne Wooden, a member of the school council in Chalmers, said: “I’m worried that the school will be closed after everyone’s worked so hard.” Her children attended from Pre-K through her 8th grade and now her two grandchildren. “It would really hurt our neighborhood.”

pandemic Decline in enrollment accelerates as a family in many areas switched to homeschooling, charter schools and other options. Still others have transferred schools or disappeared from the school register for unknown reasons.

Many districts, like Chicago, give each student money to school. This means that smaller schools can struggle to pay for fixed costs such as principals, counselors, and building maintenance.

To combat this, many schools allocate extra funds to smaller schools and divert funds from larger schools. A Chicago neighborhood spends an average of $19,000 a year per student at a smaller high school, while a student at a larger one receives $10,000, according to Chalkbeat/AP analysis.

“I love small schools, but small schools are very expensive,” Chicago school principal Pedro Martinez recently told the school board. “You can get really creative and innovative models, but you need money.”

At the same time, these schools are often stretched thin. Very small schools have fewer clubs, sports and arts programs. Some elementary schools are forcing students to group different grades together in the same classroom, but Martinez has vowed not to do so next year.

Manly Career Academy High School on Chicago’s West Side illustrates the paradox. Schools like Manly offer few electives, sports or extra-curricular activities, but now serve 65 students, and the per-student cost jumped to her $40,000. .

“We spend $40,000 per student just to provide the bare minimum,” said Hal Woods of Kids First Chicago, an advocacy group that studies the decline in enrollment in the district. says Mr. “It’s not really a $40,000 per student student experience.”

Small schools are popular with families, teachers and community members. Some argue that school districts should invest more in these schools. Many of them are in areas with large black and Latino populations that have been hit hard by the pandemic. As in the case of North Lawndale, schools can still serve as community hubs and local pride, even with the loss of students.

The race is also packed.Across the country, schools with large numbers of students of color are likely to close, often felt unjustified by those in affected communities. targeted.

Prospects for school closures are particularly high in Chicago, where 50 schools closed in 2013, most in predominantly black neighborhoods. The move has loosened trust between residents and the district, and according to University of Chicago studysignificantly disrupted learning for low-income students.

Families are skeptical of the closure in Boston, where the district was losing students well before the pandemic.

One of the most endangered schools is PA Shaw Elementary School in the Dorchester area of ​​Boston. The school, which was revived after its last closure in 2014, had 250 students in 2018 and just over 150 students last year. Earlier this year, after he made plans to eliminate two classrooms, seen by some as a harbinger of closure, the school district faced backlash from parents. and a teacher.

Parents gathered behind the school included Brenda Ramsey, whose 7-year-old daughter Emasin Wise is entering second grade. When Ramsey became homeless and stayed with her family during her pandemic, Shaw’s teachers drove half an hour to deliver her schoolwork. School staff then helped Ramsey find her permanent residence.

Ramsey, 32, still remembers the joy she and her two daughters had when they first visited the show.

“The principal was like them. She was a young black woman who looked forward to meeting them,” she said.

Now that the school’s fate is in question, Ramsey debates whether to keep Emmershin there.

Ramsey’s dilemma illustrates what school districts call “a cycle of under-enrollment.” School enrollment will drop, finances will become unstable, and more families will leave. This problem is often exacerbated in schools with large numbers of students of color.

And if a school faces closure, it will be “devastating” for families, said Suleika Soto, acting director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance, which advocates for underrepresented students.

“It means it has to be uprooted,” she said. “And if parents don’t like it, they keep their kids out of public schools, and this again fuels the toxic cycle.”

Including several urban school districts that are nevertheless losing students Denver, IndianapolisWhen Kansas City, Missouri I am considering leaving school. Earlier this year, the Oakland, California, school board decided to close several small schools despite furious protests.

“School budgets have been cut as a way to keep more schools open,” said Shanti Gonzalez, a former Oakland board member who resigned in May shortly after voting to support school closures. rice field. “There are really bad tradeoffs.”

Elsewhere, leaders backed by federal COVID-19 relief funds continue to invest in these schools.

Chicago will use about $140 million of the $2.8 billion in COVID-19 relief it received this year to help smaller schools, officials said. Martinez, who took over as principal last fall, has avoided talk of a closure, saying the district wants to study ways to make campuses more attractive to families and seek more funding from the state. .

Los Angeles and new york cityofficials say their focus is on getting students back into the system rather than closing schools.

But the federal bailout will soon run out. The school district has until September 2024 to make that budget. School districts may then struggle to keep all the smaller schools.

“This is a big problem,” said Bruce Fuller, an educational researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. “As the number of these schools continues to grow, it will become increasingly difficult for superintendents to justify keeping these places open.”

Burnham reported from New York and Binkley from Boston. Contributing to this report were her Chalkbeat journalist Kaitlyn Radde in Washington and her Thomas Wilburn in Chicago and her AP journalist Sharon Lurye in New Orleans.

The Associated Press education team is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Big cities face a crisis of small schools as fewer children are

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