In 35 states, the student population is lower than it was 5 years before the pandemic. See the latest data on 9,800 districts
By Chad Aldeman
According to the latest national data, American public schools employ more teachers than they did in 2018-19 but are serving fewer students. In effect, schools have collectively reduced their student-to-teacher ratios.
These trends are not isolated in certain states or types of districts. Across the country, and more than two-thirds of school districts are serving fewer students than they did five years before the pandemic.
Some of the districts with declining enrollments are reducing their teacher staffing counts, but not all of them. And even among those that are downsizing, not all are doing so at the same rate as they’re losing students.
To get a sense of how these trends vary across the country, I worked with Eamonn Fitzmaurice, 789bet’s art and technology director, to help visualize how these changes are playing out in local communities. (For a more detailed analysis, click here).
The map shows the results from nearly 9,800 districts, comparing federal data from 2021-22 — the most recent available — with 2016-17. Those shaded black were either too small for this analysis or were missing data.
Users can view national trends or zoom in to focus on a particular area. Clicking on a district will pull up a graph and statistics showing how these two data points — student enrollment versus teaching staff — have changed in that district over this five-year period.
The map is color-coded based on how each district has adjusted teacher staffing levels in relation to its enrollment gains or losses.
Districts shaded orange had more students per teacher in 2021-22 than they did five years prior. They either lost teachers more rapidly than they lost students or didn’t add staff as quickly as they gained enrollment. In total, 28% of districts fell into one of these categories.
But many more districts (72% nationwide) fell into one of the gray or blue categories, meaning they had fewer students per teacher than they did before the pandemic. They may have added teachers while losing students or chose not to scale down their staff as quickly as enrollment dropped.
These trends have been partially hidden thanks to flush state budgets and a one-time infusion of federal money. But those funds expire at the end of September 2024, and districts will once again need to balance their staffing and enrollment levels.
This analysis can help readers identify which districts are most at risk of layoffs and other budgetary reductions in the coming years. Leaders in districts that have reduced their student-to-teacher ratios during the pandemic years — a majority nationwide — will be forced to make some tough decisions if state budgets stagnate as the federal funds expire.
The data for this analysis come from the . It includes school districts that served at least 500 students every year from 2016-17 to 2021-22. The number of teachers is expressed in full-time equivalents, meaning the total number of employee work hours rather than the total complement of individual teachers. Districts were flagged if they were missing data for some years or had abnormally large fluctuations during this time period.