Montgomery County Public Schools this fall could see an enrollment increase for the first time in three years, potentially again eclipsing the 160,000-student threshold, according to projections.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s largest school district has seen a sharp drop in enrollment which, at its peak in 2019, was nearly 166,000 students.
District leaders have said much of the decrease was in the lowest grades as families pushed off enrollment into pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. Last year’s official enrollment, taken at the end of September each year, was about 159,000, the first year it dropped below 160,000 since 2017, according to district records.
Now, as the new school year approaches, MCPS projections show an enrollment of about 161,000 students in pre-K through high school, according to a district spokesman.
In an email, Chris Cram wrote the number is “very fluid” and changes every day through the first few weeks of school, but if there is, indeed, an increase, “we certainly look forward to that.”
He did not respond to follow-up questions, including about which grades or programs are showing a projected increase.
The recent enrollment decreases were in sharp contrast to the decade prior when the district experienced rapid growth, usually tallying more than 2,000 new students each year. Enrollment projections in 2019 showed MCPS surpassing 170,000 students by 2025.
Now, the district doesn’t expect to climb back up to about 166,000 students districtwide until the 2027-28 school year, district leaders have said.
Funding for Maryland school districts largely depends on enrollment and per-pupil funding. The county government is required by state law, known as maintenance of effort, to provide at least as much funding per pupil each year as the previous year. So, if MCPS’ enrollment drops, the county is not required to provide as much funding.
That has not been the reality for MCPS over the past two years, as the county has invested more funding than what was required. MCPS leaders have said doing so was critical to meet the “increased needs” of students affected by the pandemic and of those who struggled to learn during virtual classes.