Major City Considers Closing Public Schools Amid Enrollment Losses

With steep declines in enrollments, lawmakers want Albuquerque public schools to consider merging schools and cutting staff.

By Erika Hanson | Published

Pediatricians Say Children With Head Lice Should Remain In School

Albuquerque public schools

It is hard to think of anything good that came from the pandemic, especially when it comes to the education sector. Student achievement is down, public schools are under more scrutiny than ever before amid a raging culture war, teachers are hard to come by, and parents are pulling their children out of public education in droves. Districts across the nation are scrambling to come up with ideas to combat falling enrollment figures, but oftentimes, the only answer is permanent school closures. This is something that Albuquerque public schools are now considering, as the city cites plummeting enrollment in their schools.

On Wednesday, April 27th, the New Mexico’s Legislative Finance committee recommended that the state’s largest city should consider both staff cuts, and school mergers due to diminishing enrollment in Albuquerque public schools. The large school district covers 144 schools. Student enrollment has been steadily increasing over the years. This year, the district served around 73,000 students. Six years ago, they enrolled nearly 12,000 more students than that, according to the Associated Press.

Albuquerque public schools

The Legislature suggested that the Albuquerque public schools district let go of 400 employees, but they failed to propose how, and where, schools should be closed. Furthermore, members of the committee recommended these cuts as a means to appropriate more funding for low-income students who have fallen further behind this school year. Like many other states, New Mexico’s enrollment figures have yet to increase despite schools remaining open. Enrollment statewide sits around 4% less than the average for other U.S. states. 

There are various factors lawmakers considered as to why enrollment is so low in the Land of Enchantment. Thousands of families within the Albuquerque public schools system moved their children into charter schools or private schools. Homeschooling also became a popular alternative in New Mexico, where the amount of documented homeschooled children nearly doubled amid the onset of the pandemic. Similarly, some families living close to the Texas border pulled their children completely out of the state and into Texas, where public schools remained open. 

Fewer enrollments also mean less funding for Albuquerque public schools. Despite COVID relief funds hitting states for use this year, they report having less funding since the amount that schools receive is heavily weighted on how many students attend those schools. And without those students, districts aren’t receiving the money they planned to have.

Albuquerque public schools

Albuquerque public schools superintendent, Scott Elder, is against the committee’s suggestion to close some school buildings. Elder pointed out that the district is already shuffling around educators and staff to accommodate schools with more students and more vacancy needs. The official also pointed to the turmoil it could cause families who could possibly have to come up with new plans to get their children to school. Likewise, Elder said that the proposed mergers could in hindsight cause more expenses for the district. 

The suggestions and uncertainty of Albuquerque public schools’ future is leaving community members uneasy. But for now, there is no concrete plan to close any of the district’s 144 schools. In New Mexico, the school year typically starts at the beginning of August, so for now, lawmakers and officials have a few months to mull over options, and see if there is a way to keep the buildings in operation.