Student enrollment in public schools is falling in every county in New York outside of New York City, except for one. School enrollments in 57 of New York’s 63 counties from Suffolk to Erie, Orange to Oswego, experienced declines in school enrollments in the last decade, from 2011 to 2019. The only county outside of New York City to experience student enrollment growth was Saratoga County.
Far from a singular Adirondack Park or North Country trend, school enrollments across 57 counties outside of New York City had about 107,000 fewer students enrolled in the 2019-20 school year than were enrolled in 2011.
Many decry declining public school enrollment numbers as a uniquely Adirondack problem, but it’s a reality across New York State, Upstate and Downstate, driven by trends of an aging population, smaller families, lower birth rates, and young people delaying starting families until a much older age.
New York’s population has been stagnant for close to 40 years, hovering at around 19 million residents. While New York’s population has not grown significantly in total numbers, the composition of the state’s residents has not been static. In the last 40 years, the state’s population has shifted and today there are 1 million more New Yorkers over 65 years of age and 1 million fewer residents under the age of 18 than there was 40 years ago. That shift towards an older population impacts school enrollment numbers and is more pronounced in Upstate rural communities than in Downstate metropolitan communities.
In 2011, there were 2.71 million children enrolled in public schools across New York, including over 65,000 children enrolled in charter schools, with just over 1 million in New York City. At the close of the decade, there were 2.63 million students enrolled in public schools, with New York City enrollment up by nearly 28,000 students. By 2019, charter school enrollments had doubled to over 156,000 students throughout the state. The trend of slowly declining school enrollments outside of New York City is consistent with long-term findings in The Adirondack Park and Rural America report published last year by Protect the Adirondacks.
In Suffolk County on Long Island, which has 68 different school districts with nearly 231,000 students, 41 districts posted losses, which topped -21,000 in total. In Nassau County, which has 56 school districts and over 200,000 students, saw 35 districts post losses, which topped -2,000 students.
Monroe County (Rochester) experienced a loss of over 7,700 students. Dutchess County, in the Hudson Valley, and Erie County (Buffalo) saw declines of over 5,000 students each. Orange County, in the lower Hudson Valley, saw a loss of almost 5,000.
Broome County (Binghamton) saw a loss of over 2,800. In his State of the State speech, Governor Cuomo touted that young people were moving to Buffalo, but Erie County saw a decline of over 5,000 total students in the past decade. Monroe County (Rochester) saw a drop of over 7,700. Onondaga County (Syracuse) saw a decline of over 3,700. Ontario County, one of the few Upstate New York counties that have experienced population growth in the last decade, still saw losses of over 1,200 students. Schenectady County dropped by over 4,000. Albany County was flat, dropping by a mere 620 students, out of an enrollment of over 39,000. Saratoga was the lone county outside of New York City to show gains in school enrollments, which topped 1,100 students.
Across New York, there are 686 school districts outside of the five boroughs of New York City, which saw a drop in total enrollment in the last decade from 1.68 million to 1.57 million, a loss of just over 107,000. Of the 686 school districts, 124 saw growth in enrollment, only 18%, while 562 districts experienced declining enrollments. Over 46% of New York’s public school districts saw an enrollment drop of -10% or higher in the last decade.
Many school districts in the Adirondacks straddle the Blue Line, so it’s not an easy task to evaluate gains and losses through a purely Adirondack Park lens. The school districts that saw a tick up in the Adirondacks and North Country were Schroon Lake, Crown Point, the small elementary school in Putnam, and Long Lake (+3 students), while AuSable Valley was flat. On the edge of the Park, Beekmantown and Colton-Pierrepont saw gains.
As a whole, New York State saw a -4% drop in student enrollments 2011-2019. In the North Country, some districts saw minor changes: Bolton (-1%); Keene (-2%); Malone (-2%); Plattsburgh (-2%); Broadalbin-Perth (-3%); Remsen (-3%); Glens Falls (-3.6%); Potsdam (-4%); Canton (-4.6%); North Warren (-5%); Saranac (-6%); Johnsburg (-6%); Saratoga Springs (-6%); Peru (-6.6%); and Lowville (-6.6%).
Adirondack Park districts that saw bigger losses, include Moriah (-12%); Queensbury (-12%); St Regis Falls (-13%); Clifton-Fine (-13%); Lake Placid (-13%); Tupper Lake (-13%); Webb (-14%); Saranac Lake (-15%); Warrensburg (-15%); Ticonderoga (-15%); Minerva (-16%); Wells (-19%); Hadley-Luzerne (-21%); Lake George (-22%); Newcomb (-24%); Willsboro (-24%); and Indian Lake (-28%). These 17 school districts combined had over 10,000 students enrolled in 2019, but had dropped by nearly 1,900 since 2011. Across New York, 36% of all school districts experienced a -12% or greater drop in enrollments and among the 50 school districts with the biggest enrollment declines, nine were in the North Country, with six within the Adirondack Park.
Across New York State, outside of New York City, 82% of school districts saw enrollment declines from 2011 to 2019. No part of the state was left untouched. As we move into the election season in 2020, I’m sure that we’ll hear a political narrative that the declining school enrollment numbers in the Adirondacks are something unique to our region. The blame will undoubtedly focus on environmental protections. The reality is that New York’s overall population is stagnant and aging. As a result, the number of school age young people is slowly declining everywhere across the state, except New York City.