Twenty Percent Of All Elementary Students Have Quit Portland Schools

By Rick Gonzales | Published

portland school enrollment

The enrollment numbers are bad for Portland schools and it doesn’t appear that they will be getting better any time soon. Portland Public Schools (PPS), the largest school district in Oregon, is, simply put, getting smaller. PPS officials are projecting a two-year enrollment decrease of nearly 7,000 students which in relative terms, equates to the school district losing roughly three high schools’ worth of students.

According to Oregon school data, Portland schools have already lost almost 3,500 students since the 2019-2020 school year. Overall, PPS reported their total district enrollment of 45,123 this year, compared to the 48,559 they had in classrooms in 2019-2020. Officials within PPS are projecting that the Portland schools will see another precipitous dip of 3,400 students next year.

Across the state, Oregon student enrollment has dropped by almost 30,000 since 2019-2020. This year’s enrollment numbers sit at 553,012, a sharp contrast from the 582,661 seen in 2019-2020. Those are big numbers for schools that depend on student enrollment numbers to get their state funds. The biggest drop in these numbers comes from the elementary school ranks. There, over a three-year timespan (2019 through next year’s projections), the Portland schools have seen a 20% decrease in elementary school enrollment.

With fewer students, does mean there will be fewer Portland schools teachers employed? Well, although PPS officials say they expect to see a homeroom position reduction of 65 positions, they do not believe those lost positions will come by way of layoffs. The drop in enrollment, so far, doesn’t foreshadow layoffs or school closures. PPS says they do expect attrition to be the reason they expect to see a loss of 7% of its teachers next year.

“PPS is not projecting a decline in enrollment that would lead to closing a school entirely,” Ariane Le Chevallier, communications advisor for PPS, said via the Portland Tribune. “For the past two years, we have not decreased any staffing. We kept the staffing levels the same, however, we’ve seen a 21% decline in enrollment over the past three years. A lot of that is in kindergarten, K-5.”

One way Portland schools are avoiding the need to cut staff is by use of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) funds. These monies were dolled out to school districts for a one-time use during the COVID pandemic. The PPS also plans on using Student Investment Account cash. This fund was created by the Student Success Act.

Another important part of public schooling also won’t see their numbers reduced. School counselors appear to be safe from dropping Portland school enrollment numbers. Even with declining numbers and funds, the school district has plans on adding another 10 full-time art teachers.

“While we are forecasting fewer dollars to operate schools generally as a result of declining student enrollment, we are also grateful to have targeted state and one-time federal investments to limit the impact of this enrollment change school districts all across Oregon are facing,” said Guadalupe Guerrero, PPS Superintendent, to Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Fortunately, these one-time dollars will maintain our commitment to advancing key staffing priorities, including making progress towards our class-size goals, a continued focus on direct student supports, and growing access to arts education.”

Regardless of how those 65 homeroom positions are lost, the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) union is not on board with losing that many full-time positions. In fact, according to PAT, those 65 positions aren’t the whole story. At least that is what PAT President Elizabeth Thiel says.

In her posted statement to union members, Thiel says that the PPS has plans to cut nearly 120 educators from Portland schools. In her statement, Thiel claims, that while PPS told families “about maintaining 40 positions, they did not mention the 121 elementary and middle school teaching positions they plan to cut from classrooms across the district. They also failed to mention that there is no budget shortfall necessitating ANY cuts from schools.”

There is trouble on the horizon for Portland schools and it isn’t only coming in the form of dropping enrollment numbers. The teacher’s union is positioning itself to make some noise. But with student numbers dropping as fast as they are, just how much noise can they really make?

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