Thousands of Schools Face Potential Closure as Enrollment Declines

By Linda Jacobson
January 9, 2024

Just before Christmas, the school board in Jackson, Mississippi, made a decision to shut down 11 schools and merge two others — a drastic action that parents in the district had been worried about for a long time. Some of the schools on the list have experienced a decline of 30% or more in student enrollment since 2018.

Despite the high poverty rate in the district, Superintendent Errick Greene stated that he could no longer afford to employ social workers and counselors in schools that have experienced a continuous decline in student enrollment. Many of the older buildings were in bad shape, and it didn’t make sense to have plumbers and HVAC technicians rushing around the city every morning to fix them.

“Should we really be using this money to maintain these school buildings if they’re at best only half full?” he asked.

Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Errick Greene has focused on school improvement since arriving in 2018. Enrollment continues to decline, but the district’s rating has increased from an F to a C. (Jackson Public Schools)

These questions are causing serious concern among district leaders across the country. Coming after the academic setbacks caused by the pandemic, and with federal relief funds running out, they are now faced with a major enrollment crisis.

Brian Eschbacher

“I’m not surprised people didn’t want to discuss this until last fall,” stated Brian Eschbacher, an enrollment consultant. “Everyone always hoped that the students would return.”

But most of them have not — and this is part of a decline that is predicted to continue throughout the next decade. Oregon, New Mexico, and West Virginia are among the states projected to see a further 10% decrease in enrollment or more.

An in-depth analysis of national enrollment data, conducted by researchers at the Brookings Institution with additional reporting from The 74, provides the most detailed insight yet into how the crisis is manifesting at both the school level and in districts that are facing, or will soon face, tough decisions about closures and budget cuts.

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