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A Metropolitan Planning Council analysis of recently released Chicago Public Schools enrollment data shows that the number of Latino students has declined for the fourth year in a row. Latinos are the largest racial or ethnic group within CPS, accounting for nearly 47 percent of the district’s roughly 371,400 students, according to a CPS enrollment count taken last month.
Latino enrollment dropped from about 177,500 last fall to roughly 173,800 in October, a 2 percent decline, according to the CPS data. In the past 20 years, Latino enrollment has never before declined four years in a row. In fact, prior to 2014, Latino enrollment declined only once dating back to 1999. On top of that, this year’s decline is more than the three previous years combined. It’s also the second deepest single-year decline of Latino students since 1999.
Overall, CPS enrollment is down by about 10,000 students from last year.
In its effort to promote strong regional planning and address some of the region’s toughest issues, MPC tracks a range of indicators that are vital to the region’s social and economic health. Strong public education systems are key to any metropolitan region to attract investment, maintain a strong economy, produce a talented workforce and promote equitable outcomes for its citizens.
The trend of declining Latino enrollment is a troubling one for CPS not only because Latinos are the district’s largest demographic but also because steady growth in Latino students has helped offset the system's continuous loss of black students. Black enrollment within CPS has fallen each year since at least 1998, the earliest year for which enrollment data are available on the district’s website.
With both Latino and black enrollment falling during the last four years, overall CPS enrollment has fallen more the last four years than it has during any four-year stretch in the past 20 years, according to MPC’s analysis. Since 2013, CPS enrollment has fallen by nearly 30,000 students, from about 400,500 to about 371,400—a 7 percent drop.
The district’s enrollment has declined in each of the last six years. And CPS hasn’t witnessed back-to-back years of enrollment growth since 2002.
The exact reasons why Latino enrollment is down aren’t entirely clear.
It doesn’t appear that Latino families are choosing other education options in the city. An MPC analysis of private school enrollment figures collected by the Illinois State Board of Education shows that Latino enrollment is down overall in more than 200 private schools registered with ISBE that are located in Chicago. According to MPC’s analysis, Latino enrollment fell by almost 20 percent at those private schools in Chicago between 2013 and 2016, the most recent year for which ISBE posted the data.
However, Latino enrollment is up slightly at private schools located in suburban Cook County. MPC’s analysis shows that Latino enrollment, collectively, increased by nearly 6 percent at more than 180 private schools registered with ISBE that are located in suburban Cook County. Still, that growth—about 320 students in actual numbers—wouldn’t account for the decline of roughly 3,700 Latino students in CPS between 2013 and 2016.
A likelier explanation is a dip in the school-age Latino population in Chicago since 2013, according to MPC’s analysis of annual population counts by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Latino population, as a whole, grew in Chicago by nearly 3 percent from 2013 to 2016, the most recent year available. But, collectively, the estimated population of Latinos between the ages of 5 years and 17 years, a rough proxy for the Latino school-age population, fell in Chicago during that span from about 178,600 to about 171,100—a loss of about 7,500 or 4 percent.
The heaviest losses of Latino students over the past year were found in the southwest side communities of West Elsdon and South Lawndale.
It’s likely that the loss of nearly 1,100 Latino students in West Elsdon is due to the opening of a new middle school in the neighboring West Lawn community, where Latino enrollment increased by roughly the same amount. CPS opened Richardson Middle School this year in West Lawn to handle overcrowding at the Peck and Pasteur elementary schools in West Elsdon.
In South Lawndale, where Latino enrollment fell collectively by more than 700, there were declines of Latino students at 24 of 27 schools. However, just four of the schools suffered losses greater than 10 percent. Similarly, in other communities witnessing declining Latino numbers, the losses were less than 300 students, typically representing single-percentage-point declines.
Additionally, Latino enrollment in more than 120 charter schools, collectively, increased by about 250 students or 1 percent, while the Latino students in district-run schools declined by nearly 4,000 students or about 2.6 percent. The vast majority of Latino students, about 85 percent, attend district-run schools.