Overall, enrollment in the District’s public schools — including charter and traditional public campuses — grew by 1.7 percent to 94,603 students in the 2019-2020 academic year, with the traditional system accounting for 54 percent of the city’s public school students.
This is the 11th straight year of public school enrollment growth in the nation’s capital.
The charter sector — with more than 100 schools — enrolled 43,556 students, a drop of 404 students. The traditional public system has 51,060 students.
City officials stressed Tuesday that enrollment figures are preliminary, although they do not expect the numbers to change significantly when finalized in a few months.
“We’re pleased again that more families are choosing” D.C. Public Schools, Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said at a news conference at MacFarland Middle, a neighborhood school in Petworth that closed amid declining enrollment in 2013 and reopened in 2016. “In fact, more families are choosing their neighborhood schools.”
The decline in charter school enrollment follows a rough year for the sector, with four campuses not reopening because of finances or poor academic performance. One of those schools, Democracy Prep Congress Heights, served 759 students.
A fifth school — AppleTree Early Learning in Southwest Washington — served 97 students and did not reopen because it could not secure a building.
And the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which is charged with overseeing the sector, said National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter High must close at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year because of lackluster academic performance.
The traditional system opened Bard High School Early College in Southeast Washington with more than 150 students this fall. The school system also opened an early college campus with Trinity Washington University on Calvin Coolidge Senior High’s campus in Northwest Washington, which led to a 40 percent enrollment increase at the school.
Enrollment could improve for charter schools next year: The charter board approved five new schools for the 2020-2021 academic year. Two popular charter schools, Mundo Verde and Lee Montessori elementary schools, opened second campuses this academic year that will expand by a grade level each year.
And more than 10 charter schools added grade levels.
“We partner with and compete with D.C. Public Schools, but all in the goal of improving all public schools in the hopes that every parent finds a great school that is right for his or her child,” said Scott Pearson, the charter school board’s executive director. “The schools that remain are of higher quality, and that’s what’s important.”
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said the slight decline in charter school students is evidence that the charter board is fulfilling its role and holding schools accountable. “One of the big ideas behind the charter movement is that schools that are successful stay open, and schools that are not close,” Bowser said. “So we shouldn’t be so surprised by this trend.”
Despite growth in recent years, enrollment in the city’s public schools remains far below its peak. The student population had been in a steady decline since the 1960s, when about 150,000 students attended the District’s public schools.
By 1995, enrollment had plummeted to about 80,000 students when Congress passed the D.C. School Reform Act, paving the way for charter schools to open.
At that time, the traditional system experienced steady enrollment declines as parents pulled their children out of neighborhood campuses and into charters.
Over the past decade, both sectors stabilized, adding students most years.
This year, citywide enrollment data trends show that while the number of ninth-graders has grown, enrollment in upper high school grades has declined.
Ferebee said the school system posted growth in all eight wards of the city. Anacostia High, a neighborhood school in Southeast Washington that has struggled with dwindling enrollment, experienced a 9 percent increase.
A recent growth in elementary school enrollment is translating to higher middle school enrollment as children age. Hart and Sousa middle schools in Southeast recorded a roughly 20 percent increase in students, while Brookland Middle experienced a 34 percent increase.
“We are really excited about the improvements we have seen,” said Hanseul Kang, state superintendent of education. “Not only in outcomes, but in the number of families choosing our public schools.”