Enrollment in New York public schools this year sank to its lowest level since the early 1950s, according to preliminary state Education Department (NYSED) data, from 2.4 million in 2022-23 to 2.38 million.

The enrollment data include students from pre-kindergarten to grade 12 in public schools, which includes charter schools. Most of the statewide loss (-24,305, or -1 percent) was concentrated in New York City, where, despite the unexpected arrival of migrant children, enrollment fell 21,310 (-2.4 percent). On Long Island, enrollment was virtually unchanged from 2022-23, with schools adding 409 students (0.1 percent). North of New York City, districts lost 3,404 students (-0.3 percent).

Following the post-World War II baby boom, New York public school enrollment reached its highest-ever level, 3.5 million, in 1970-71. Enrollment slid through the 1970s and 1980s to 2.5 million, before rising in the 1990s to its recent high of nearly 2.9 million in 1999-2000. Enrollment has since trended down, almost uninterrupted (figure 1).

Figure 1.

Source: NYSED

Since 2011-12, the last year in which enrollment rose, the number of students in New York public schools dropped 320,209 (-11.9 percent) (figure 2).

Figure 2.

Source: NYSED, Empire Center calculations

The decrease since 2018-19 (the last full year prior to the coronavirus pandemic) was 198,259 (-7.7 percent).

Looking at the change during that period, every county (with the exception of Rockland) has fewer public school students in 2023-24 than it had in 2018-19 (figure 3). The largest decrease was in the Bronx, where enrollment fell 41,742 (-21.2 percent).

Enrollment also fell more than 10 percent during the period in Cortland (-10.1), Queens (-10.6), Columbia (-11.1), Kings (-11.5) and Schuyler Counties (-12).

Figure 3.

At the district level, 555 of the 685 districts outside New York City (81 percent) are below their pre-pandemic (2018-19) enrollment. Another 33 districts would have declined were it not for increased enrollment in optional pre-kindergarten. Enrollment is down at least 10 percent in 157 districts (23 percent). (Figure 4)

Figure 4.

Source: NYSED, Empire Center calculations

On Long Island, 83 of 125 school districts (66 percent) had decreased enrollment compared to five years ago. In the counties north of New York City, decreases occurred in 472 out of 560 districts (84 percent).

New York City public school enrollment is down 12.2 percent since 2018-19, from 994,964 to 873,787. The state’s other largest districts also lost enrollment:

  • Buffalo: -5,823 (-11.3 percent)
  • Rochester: -6,028 (-20.9 percent)
  • Yonkers: -2,532 (-9.5 percent)
  • Syracuse: -2,658 (-12.6 percent)

How Much Lower?

School enrollment reflects both the size of the school-age population and decisions by parents on how their students learn.

The combination of a declining fertility rate, net domestic outmigration (more people moving to other states than moving from them) and a decline in lawful foreign immigration helped push the school-age population (age 5 to 17) down from its recent high (nearly 3.5 million in 2000) to around 3 million.

The impact of parental decisions on school enrollment was visible when more than 100,000 students exited the New York public school system ahead of school year 2020-21 and largely do not appear to have returned. This coincided with, among other things, a surge in homeschooling which appears to have been sustained. With more innovation in the micro-school space, and with parents having more flexible employment thanks to remote work, it is becoming easier for parents to find alternatives to the public school system besides their historical options of private and parochial schools.

One meaningful indicator of New York’s future public school enrollment is the number of students in kindergarten, the first year for which attendance is compulsory (figure 5). In 2013-14, New York public schools had 189,828. The number trended down gradually before sinking nearly 10 percent in 2020-21. After a slight increase in 2021-22, the numbers again ticked down in both 2022-23 and the current school year. All told, New York public schools this year have 155,049 kindergartners, 18 percent (34,779) fewer than 10 years ago.

Figure 5.

Source: NYSED

Data Note: the number of districts excludes two districts (Berkshire Union Free School District and Inlet Central School District) which ceased operations during the five-year review period. The Elizabethtown and Westport districts, which merged, are counted as one district. Fire Island UFSD 2023-24 enrollment, omitted from NYSED data table, collected via telephone.

You may also like

School Budgets Outpace Inflation As Districts Plan To Spend Over $33K Per Student

School districts presenting budgets to voters next Tuesday plan to spend an average of $33,404 per student, up 4.4 percent from the current school year, according to new state data. Read More

More is Never Enough: NY’s School Spending

The latest federal data show New York's public school system has the highest per-pupil spending of any state; New York City has the highest per-pupil spending among the nation’s 50 largest school districts; and New York teachers have the highest average pay while pupil-teacher ratio is among the lowest. Read More

The FOIL Record: State Agencies, Tech and How To Make It Better

This report analyzes how well 66 executive branch agencies are using the internet and technology platforms to meet their FOIL obligations (see table below). It evaluates how user-friendly agency websites are for making FOIL requests. And it examines to what extent agencies are using, or not using, technology to make both the agency’s and the public’s FOIL experiences better. Read More

New York’s post-pandemic Medicaid binge

As state budget preparations head into their final weeks, a confrontation is brewing over Medicaid, the state-run health plan for the low-income and disabled. Governor Hochul has holding the state’s $36 billion share of Medicaid funding essentially Read More

Green Guardrails

The headlong, secretive process around implementing New York's 2019 Climate Act – inherited from a governor who resigned in disgrace – runs the risk of saddling New Yorkers with both a less reliable electrical grid and rules across the entire economy that impose enormous expense. Read More

What They Make

The 2023 edition of What They Make, the Empire Center’s annual report on public payrolls, allows New York taxpayers to compare this key element of local government costs around the state. Read More

NY Flunks Testing (Again)

Long-delayed data showing outcomes from New York’s 2023 state assessment tests—taken by students in grades 3 to 8 in June—were finally released last week. It marks the second year in a row that state education officials have failed to release the da Read More


Most school board members in New York's largest school districts were elected with teachers' union support and many are themselves teachers' union members. Read More