Enrollment plunges at Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools

The flood of students and families abandoning the Minneapolis and St. Paul public school systems began well before the pandemic. But since COVID, the trend has only intensified, according to the Star Tribune.

Enrollment has tumbled in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts this fall as the two systems work through major redesigns.

School board members in St. Paul learned recently the state’s second-largest district is down 2,204 students from a year ago — the steepest annual decline in a steady four-year slide.

The 6.3% drop translates to $19.4 million in lost revenue, according to Marie Schrul, the district’s chief financial officer, who advised board members last week to move to stem the losses and corral costs. This year’s decline, she said, “really takes people aback.”

The steep decline in students and revenue comes as St. Paul schools prepare to approve a controversial restructuring plan this week. Ironically, a recent overhaul of the Minneapolis public school system may have actually exacerbated the flight to other districts.

Minneapolis Public Schools can attest that restructuring results in losses.

Enrollment has dropped this fall at a sharper rate than district leaders had projected. As of Oct. 1, the district had 29,580 students, down about 7.6% from last school year. Before the pandemic, the city’s public schools had more than 33,500 students during the fall of 2019.

Across the district, kindergarten enrollment is slightly higher (1.8%) than last year, but also lower than projected.

The serious enrollment losses figure into the St. Paul district’s reset, which addresses a number of factors for the flight of so many families.

In St. Paul’s rollout of its Envision SPPS plan, the district cited student flight to charter schools and to other districts through open enrollment as major factors in its declines. Administrators have shared with board members a list of 31 charter schools that opened or expanded in the city during the past 10 years.

Class size limits negotiated by the St. Paul Federation of Educators also were cited during an October board meeting as barriers to opening additional seats in popular schools.

Board Member John Brodrick said then that he agreed that the district was handcuffed by such limitations. But he said he also had heard from people who contend the district has come up short in delivering a well-rounded education, a safe and orderly environment and high standards for student behavior.

In fact, school safety has become a top concern in recent weeks, with several highly publicized incidents making the news.

Hundreds of students walked out of Highland Park High School over what they described as the school’s “sexual assault culture,” prompting an apology and a promise of corrective action by the school’s principal.

After a walkout and a fight that spilled out of Central High School, Principal Christine Vang announced last week that the district was sending in five community ambassadors to walk the hallways, plus another school support liaison.

Due to community pushback, St. Paul school officials have reportedly already backed down from the planned closure of three schools originally in the restructuring plan. But few expect the Envision SPPS plan to stem the exodus of students from the district in the short run, and maybe longer.