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NEPC Talks Education: Discussing the Causes and Potential Consequences of Declining Enrollment

BOULDER, CO (May 23, 2023) – In this month’s episode of NEPC Talks Education, Christopher Saldaña discusses the causes and potential consequences of declining enrollment in K-12 public schools with Thomas Dee, the Barnett Family Professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Education, and Sally Nuamah, a professor of Urban Politics in Human Development, Social Policy, and Political Science at Northwestern University.

Dee identifies various factors contributing to the decline in public school enrollment, including delayed school reopening, parents delaying their child's enrollment, school choice, remote work, and decreasing birth rates across the US. He emphasizes the importance of addressing this decline as it affects the financial well-being of school districts.

Nuamah details findings from her new book, Closed for Democracy, which highlights the impact of school closures on Black families and communities in Chicago and Philadelphia's K-12 public schools. She argues that closing schools removes key democratic organizations from communities, and she explains that even when communities successfully stop a school from closing, the victory often comes at a cost, resulting in disillusionment and distrust in the democratic process.

Both Dee and Nuamah recommend policymakers prepare for a potentially challenging period of educational policymaking. Dee suggests that state leaders provide clear and sufficient guidance to district leaders on how to deal with the financial fallout from declining enrollment and expiring federal pandemic relief funds. Nuamah recommends policymakers pay particular attention to the root causes of declining enrollment in low-income communities of color, such as the impact of gentrification on affordable housing and access to social services, instead of relying on the reactive policy of school closures, which disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities around the country.

A new NEPC Talks Education podcast episode, hosted by Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All episodes are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

NEPC podcast episodes are also available on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, under the title NEPC Talks Education. Subscribe and follow!

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, sponsors research, produces policy briefs, and publishes expert third-party reviews of think tank reports. NEPC publications are written in accessible language and are intended for a broad audience that includes academic experts, policymakers, the media, and the general public. Our mission is to provide high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence and support a multiracial society that is inclusive, kind, and just. Visit us at: