Adapting to Enrollment Declines in Urban School Systems

Related Expertise: Education, Public Sector

Adapting to Enrollment Declines in Urban School Systems

Managing Costs While Improving Educational Quality

By Lane McBrideNithya VaduganathanJ. PuckettNneka Rimmer, and Tyce Henry

Over the past decade, student enrollment has declined in many of the largest urban school districts in the U.S. Many of these districts have responded with more and better learning opportunities, expecting that the students would return. Yet year to year, enrollment is not something that school districts can easily control. And as it continues to decline, districts are struggling to reduce their costs in proportion to the amount of lost revenue, often taking actions that work against their aspirations for improved student achievement. A lack of advance planning and complex cost structures have resulted in districts making last-minute cuts that eliminate the jobs of effective teachers and indiscriminately raise class sizes, negatively impacting student learning.

This cycle of crisis need not continue, however. As we discuss in this report, by taking the right actions and following a disciplined approach, districts can manage their costs in a way that minimizes the impact on the classroom. In a world where declining enrollment is a reality for many districts, this could be the difference between the nation continuing to make strides in education and seeing the current momentum wane.