Despite city’s growth, D.C. school enrollment falls

Overall down 1 percent, but charters grow

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An audit released Monday shows enrollment in the District’s traditional public schools decreased slightly from 2010 to 2011, despite significant population growth in the city.

There was a 1 percent decrease in enrollment at D.C. Public Schools — or 439 fewer students — even while the city added 16,000 residents from April 2010 to July 2011, according to the audit by the District’s Office of State Superintendent for Education.

By contrast, enrollment in public charter schools increased by 8 percent.

The popularity of charter schools, particularly among parents sending their children to pre-kindergarten classes, is part of a 2 percent increase in overall enrollment in all public schools, according to the audit

Mayor Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat, said the numbers show enrollment has “stabilized” in traditional public schools and he is interested in speaking to Chancellor Kaya Henderson about her views on the audit’s findings.

“The new enrollment numbers clearly show that parents have confidence in District schools,” the mayor said. “I am hopeful that as we continue to make improvements in our schools, the numbers will continue to grow.”

The school system noted that 80 percent of its losses came from 10 schools, including a STAY program at Ballou High School for students 18 and older.

“Overall, DCPS enrollment remains steady after nearly four decades of decline,” spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said. “Today’s audit numbers show a slight decrease.”

Last year, city public school enrollment increased 2 percent, the first increase in 41 years for the troubled school system. Charter school enrollment increased 3.5 percent.

The D.C. Public Charter School Board oversees 32,000 students at 53 different schools on 98 campuses. It is responsible for educating 41 percent of all public school students in the District, and officials said they were thrilled by the steadily increasing enrollment in the past three years.

“While much of the growth is in the younger grades, we also saw 4 percent growth [overall],” said Scott Pearson, the board’s executive director. “Parents are choosing charter schools because they have confidence in the overall performance of the sector.”

Charter schools saw the most significant gains, by 24 percent, in its pre-kindergarten categories for children ages 3 and 4, according to the audit.

Mr. Gray has put an emphasis on early-childhood education in addition to the District’s unique universal pre-K offering.

The mayor said it does not matter to him whether young children are placed in traditional public schools or charter schools, “as long as they are quality programs.”

He touted an “early success” initiative during his State of the District Address last week, citing research that shows “the most critical brain development occurs between birth and 3 years of age.”

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