Metro Atlanta schools see enrollment down as new school year begins

Empty playground at Talley Street Upper Elementary School on October 21, 2020. (Photo by Dean Hesse)

Schools across metro Atlanta have been seeing a decline in enrollment since 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Enrollment is overall going back up across the state, but local districts are still seeing a decline in the number of students in their school systems, mainly due to the pandemic.

Enrollment over the last five years was trending upwards between 2017-2020 across the state and was down during the 2020-2021 school year. Enrollment, however, went back up in the 2021-2022 school year. 

“The enrollment drop we experienced during COVID (from the 2019-2020 school year to 2020-2021) was largely concentrated in the early grades, particularly kindergarten – which is not compulsory in Georgia,” a spokesperson from the DOE said. 

Here’s a breakdown of enrollment from the Georgia Department of Education from 2017-2022: 

– 2017-2018: 1,768,642

– 2018-2019: 1,767,178

– 2019-2020: 1,769,621

– 2020-2021: 1,729,966

– 2021-2022: 1,740,875

The enrollment numbers from the state include pre-K students in Georgia public schools.

Here’s a look at enrollment trends in our local school districts.  

Atlanta Public Schools

Enrollment in Atlanta Public Schools had been going up before the COVID-19 pandemic, but has decreased since 2020. 

“Enrollment in Atlanta Public Schools had been increasing marginally for several years prior to the onset of the pandemic, which lowered enrollment in school districts statewide,” a spokesperson for APS said. 

In 2022, APS had a total of 49,732 students, according to the Georgia Department of Education’s spring enrollment count. 

In 2021, APS has a total enrollment of 49,994 students and in 2020, the district had 51,012 students. The 2020 enrollment decreased from 52,416 students in 2019 based on the district’s fall enrollment counts. 

City Schools of Decatur

As the Decatur School Board was creating the fiscal year 2023 budget, the district was facing several factors that had significant effects on the budget, including decreasing enrollment, which means state funding will also decrease. 

The state has held school district’s harmless recently on enrollment for the quality basic education formula and the amount of state funding they receive. Although, the decreasing enrollment will start to be reflected in the district’s budget soon. 

“Even though we did not meet the expected enrollment last year that the state had projected us to be at, they did not deduct any of that on our QBE formula,” Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said at the July 12 school board meeting. “So the money they sent us was equal to two years ago, but they will be adjusting it this year. Our upcoming budget has reflected a decrease in enrollment and a decrease in our QBE allotment.”

At the July 12 meeting, Fehrman said the district’s total enrollment is 5,444. 

“The trend is we’re under enrollment in our lower elementaries, above enrollment in upper and high school, and still a little bit below at Beacon Hill [Middle School],” Fehrman said. “We’re continuing to get new students enrolled every day and some families are moving out of our system every day, so we’re still in a very flux situation.”

She also told Decaturish that enrollment is influenced by a range of factors, including COVID-19, a decrease in birthrates and other trends the district might be unaware of.

City Schools of Decatur saw growing enrollment numbers from 2017-2019 and has seen a decline since 2020. In 2017, the district had a total enrollment of 5,317, in 2018 enrollment was at 5,540 and in 2019, enrollment increased to 5,695 students. CSD’s enrollment began to decline in 2020 and the district had 5,620 students, according to an enrollment report from October 2021. 

The Decatur School Board discussed the district’s enrollment report during a meeting in November 2021. In the district’s October 2021 enrollment count, the total enrollment was 5,477 students, which is 143 students less than 2020. 

Before 2020, the school system experienced growth every year, but has had decreased enrollment for the past two years, according to the report.

Enrollment has decreased the most at the lower elementary level, with a decrease of 107 students. The upper elementary enrollment decreased by 44 students and the middle school enrollment decreased by 38 students. Although, the high school enrollment increased by 46 students.

The district added 545 new students, which was an increase from 2020 when CSD added 421 new students. Of the new students, 168 were in kindergarten. Most of the students entered the district from private schools.

In 2021, all classes from second to 11th grade had above 400 students. Eighth grade had the largest number of students at 485. The average cohort in CSD was 421.

According to an enrollment projections report from December 2021, enrollment in CSD is projected to decrease over the next 10 years. 

DeKalb County School District 

Following the same trend, DeKalb County School District’s enrollment increased every year from 2017-2019 and significantly decreased in 2020. The district saw slight enrollment growth in 2021. 

According to a December 2021 enrollment report from the district, here is a breakdown of DCSD’s enrollment numbers from 2017-2021:

– 2017: 100,341

– 2018: 99,311

– 2019: 98,957

– 2020: 93,674

– 2021: 93,703

DCSD has not responded to numerous requests for more information. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has decreased the district’s enrollment. Enrollment in fall 2021 did not bounce back to nearly pre-COVID levels as DCSD had expected. Former superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris stated at a December 2021 board of education meeting that the district did not expect a significant increase in enrollment in 2022. The pandemic created a sharp drop in enrollment from 2019 to 2020. 

DeKalb Schools had predicted enrollment would increase somewhat in 2021 to about 95,787. The fall enrollment count was at 93,473, according to the DOE. The count indicates that most students who left the district did not return. 

The enrollment prediction for Fall 2022 is 93,700 students, with slight decreases in elementary and middle school enrollment and a slight increase in high school enrollment.

A reduction in enrollment over the last two years is causing DeKalb County Schools to need fewer teachers than had been hired for the 2022-2023 school year. 

Dr.Tekshia Ward-Smith presented the district’s human resources reports at the DeKalb Board of Education’s regular meeting on June 6. DCSD had 550 open positions in June, so all teachers who were extended contract will still be offered jobs. They just might not be at the schools for which they were originally hired. 

Writer Sara Amis contributed to this article. 

This story was provided by WABE content partner Decaturish.