Shrinking schools: Pittsburgh must study why enrollment is slipping

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The Pittsburgh Public Schools district didn't need more disappointment, but that's what it got in its 2013-14 enrollment figures.

The system has 324 fewer students than it had a year ago, which may not sound like a lot, but the drop represents the continuation of a decade-long descent for a system that now has 24,525 students in kindergarten through senior high school.

The who and where of the story is discouraging.

Who: High school students. The biggest percentage decline in the past year occurred in grades nine through 12, where the loss of 260 students represented a 3.8 percent decrease in enrollment. That occurred even though city residents who successfully complete their high school education in a public school -- either one of the district's buildings or a city charter school -- are eligible for significant financial help for college in the form of Pittsburgh Promise scholarships. Too many students are forgoing that opportunity, and that hurts Pittsburgh and the district.

Where: They are not necessarily the same people, but the number of students who left the district is close to the number of students added by city charters -- 324 fewer in district buildings and 307 more in charters. The district must figure out what charters are doing to attract families and replicate their success.

Answering the question of precisely why students still are leaving is complicated, and Superintendent Linda Lane promises more research to understand it. Regardless, Pittsburgh Public Schools must continue to adjust to the smaller size.

Later this month, the district is expected to release a new envisioning plan, and additional school closures most likely will be included. Until its student population starts growing, more painful reductions will be part of its future.

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