Pittsburgh Public, operating at half of its capacity, faces projected loss of nearly 6,000 students by 2031

(Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/ PublicSource)

The drain of students could lead to school closures, loss of funding and increased costs for PPS. District leaders are searching for solutions.

by Lajja Mistry, PublicSource

Pittsburgh Public Schools has experienced steady declines in student enrollment over recent years, and the state predicts it will only continue to drop.

PPS’ latest enrollment numbers, released in November, show a student population of 18,650, down from 19,160 in 2021-22. The state Department of Education predicts that the district will lose another 5,800 students by the school year 2031-32, bringing enrollment numbers down to nearly 12,800 students. 

Ted Dwyer, chief of data, research, evaluation and assessment at PPS, said a shrinking regional population is the major reason for declining student enrollment in the district. According to his research of enrollment trends since 2008, the district has seen a consistent 2% annual drop in enrollment since 2008-09. The loss was more pronounced during the pandemic; the district lost 3.9% of students in 2020-21 and 6.3% last year. 

“That’s also something that was seen in a lot of districts for the pandemic period, but for the 2022-23 school year, we see based on our October enrollment, a 2% loss again, so we’ve gone back to where we were before the pandemic,” Dwyer said. 

PPS already has excess building capacity of about 19,545 seats, as reported in advocacy group A+ Schools’ 2022 Report to the Community

With fewer students in schools, it may become difficult for the district to keep up with the increased costs of maintaining its aging school buildings, leading to potential school closures or bids to consolidate with other school districts. 

School closures or consolidations might be considered

Low student enrollment could lead to difficulty maintaining school buildings and eventual closures. 

“There’s already a cost for maintaining those buildings. As we have fewer students and we don’t have the schools filled, it becomes less efficient,” said Dwyer.

Becky Boll, a parent with two children in PPS, is concerned about the implications of school closures. “A concern is just the commute for families. If people have further to go to get to schools, it’s going to be harder to get them there. And we need kids to be in school to learn, so I think truancy potentially becomes an even greater issue,” she said in an interview. 

 

 

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