Denver Public Schools enrollment projected to fall by more than 6,300 students by 2028

Denver Public Schools projects 6,338 fewer children will attend its schools within the next five years as the declining K-12 enrollment continues to hit Colorado districts – and their budgets – despite the unexpected boost from last year’s surge of migrant students.

Enrollment in Colorado’s largest district is expected to fall 8.3% from 76,157 K-12 students during the 2023-24 academic year to 69,819 pupils during the 2028-29 school year, according to a presentation DPS officials are scheduled to give the Board of Education on Monday.

The school board on Monday is also expected to discuss the district’s policy on school consolidation and closures, which, if approved, would set guidelines for Superintendent Alex Marrero if and when he decides which schools to recommend for closure.

The policy includes directives such as not using enrollment minimums as “bright line criteria,” as schools of any enrollment size are eligible for consolidation, according to the latest draft.

“We’re currently waiting on a decision around (that policy) and that dictates both whether we consider consolidation and what the parameters of that process and consideration will be,” said Andrew Huber, executive director of enrollment and campus planning for DPS.

The school board’s goal is to vote on the school closure policy, titled Executive Limitation 18 School Consolidation and Closure, in June, district spokesman Scott Pribble said.

Across Colorado and the U.S., public school districts have emerged from the pandemic to find fewer students in their classrooms because Americans are having fewer babies, meaning there just aren’t as many children as there used to be.

In Denver, gentrification has also contributed to declining enrollment as high housing prices and the type of housing being built have shifted the city’s demographics.

The bulk of the new housing being built in Denver are apartments and high-rises, which historically house fewer school-aged children compared to single-family housing, Huber said, adding that the city’s far northeast is the only place where developers are building single-family homes.

Enrollment in Colorado public schools hit its lowest point in a decade last fall, placing financial pressure on districts as fewer children means less funding from the state.

“Long-term that is a financial challenge whenever you are having declining enrollment,” said Chuck Carpenter, the district’s chief financial officer. “It is a concern that is manageable right now.”

The enrollment crisis has spurred districts to close or consider shutting down schools. Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second-largest district, has closed more than a dozen schools in recent years and the Douglas County School District, the state’s third-largest district, is eyeing similar closures in the coming years.

In 2023, the Denver school board voted to close three schools because of low enrollment, a smaller number of closures than the 10 initially recommended by Marrero.

DPS is utilizing only about 77% of its building capacity and that is expected to fall to 72% in 2028, according to Monday’s scheduled presentation.

Last academic year, DPS saw enrollment in its schools increase for the first time since 2019 thanks in large part to the arrival of 4,741 migrant students, many of whom crossed the southern border, to its schools.

But the overall preschool-through-12th-grade enrollment increase was small — 366 pupils — and DPS leaders expect the migrant students to leave the Denver area in the coming years, meaning their arrival has only delayed declining enrollment, according to the presentation.

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Almost 800 of the 4,741 migrant students that enrolled during the 2023-24 academic year have already left DPS schools, Huber said.

“We don’t expect the elevated level of new arrivals to continue based on the information we’ve gotten from the city,” he said.

As enrollment in DPS continues to fall, the district’s student population is growing both whiter and more affluent as fewer Latino students are in Denver classrooms and fewer students qualify for free and reduced lunch, according to the presentation.

In 2023, 63% of DPS students qualified for free and reduced lunch, down from 71% almost a decade ago. About 52% of the PK-12 students enrolled in the district are Latino, down from 57% of pupils in 2014.

By comparison, white students made up 22% of enrollment almost a decade ago, but increased to 25% in 2023, according to the presentation.

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