There is more empty space in Evanston/Skokie District 65 school buildings, as the number of students who fill that space continues to drop.
According to numbers presented in a report this week to the Board of Education, as of Oct. 1, 6,618 children were enrolled in the District, including Kindergarten through 8th grade programs and the various special schools including JEH Early Childhood, Park and Rice.
That’s 421 fewer kids than on the same day last year — a 6% decline.
Looking just at K-8 enrollment, 6,113 students were enrolled on Oct. 1 this year, That’s 428 fewer than a year ago — a 7% decline.
Sarita Smith, Manager of Student Assignments, tells Evanston Now that District 65 is working with a demographer to track data, figure out why the population is declining, and help plan for the future.
Smith says this type of decrease is typical of what’s happening across the country.
Young couples, she notes, are “having fewer children,” and are having those children “much later, because of a focus on careers.”
Then there is the Evanston-specific factor of the high cost of housing, which Smith says is “pricing out families with multiple children,” who are moving further north “where the cost of living is cheaper.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when Evanston’s public schools were on remote learning only, some parents switched their children to private or parochial schools, which went in-person much sooner.
Smith says she expected most of those students to return as COVID lessened, and District 65 reopened fully.
However, it’s turned out, she notes, that “the private school kids are not coming back.”
Instead, the D65 report says 127 of the 443 returning students this year are from public schools, with 111 of them transferring from Chicago Public Schools.
That means fewer than half of those who left for private or religious schools have returned.
For reasons yet unknown, the number of transfers from CPS is one category on the increase. For 2022-23, such transfers have doubled since the number in 2019.
Smith speculates that once the COVID-related ban on evictions was lifted, some Chicago residents moved to Evanston while “trying to land on their feet,” sometimes moving in with relatives.
Many of the transfers, she says, are moving into South Evanston, where housing is less expensive than in other Evanston neighborhoods.
Enrollment data is always important, but will be even more so soon, as District 65 goes through a redistricting process that will see the opening of a new school in the 5th Ward, the planned closing of the Bessie Rhodes building (with that program moving to the new building), and the likely shutdown of at least one other building.
The painful reality is that a shrinking district does not need so many schools.
In 2016-17, District 65 had nearly 7,560 students, K-8. This year, it’s nearly 1,400 fewer, and there is no expectation of a huge jump any time soon.