As Fulton’s school enrollment drops, leaders look for solutions

Officials with Fulton County Schools are trying to figure out how to stop student enrollment from declining further. The district serves 7,223 fewer kids than it did during the 2013-14 school year. (File photo)

Officials with Fulton County Schools are trying to figure out how to stop student enrollment from declining further. The district serves 7,223 fewer kids than it did during the 2013-14 school year. (File photo)

Fulton County Schools enrolled 1,851 fewer students this school year than it did last year, according to data from the district. The decrease is 2.5 times larger than last year’s decline of 692 students.

While the school district doesn’t expect the decline to deliver a huge financial blow, it could result in less state funding for Fulton. Georgia’s Quality Basic Education Act assigns the amount of state money districts should get in part based on the number of students in a district. The majority of Fulton’s funding comes from local property taxes, but the district receives millions of dollars annually from the state. Officials project Fulton will receive $425 million in QBE funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

Changes in enrollment can affect how a district allocates resources. For example, some buildings could be underutilized. Fewer teachers and staff may be needed. Enrollment can also be a matter of pride. No school district likes to see a decline in enrollment.

School board members reviewed the enrollment numbers at a recent meeting, where district officials explained the reasons for the drop, noting fewer home sales in the county.

“The lack of existing housing supply, increased cost and escalated interest rates (have) influenced housing market uncertainty within the district,” said Executive Director of Operational Planning Tarika Peeks.

Student mobility is also a factor, Fulton says. That’s when students move in or out of school zones during the year, creating turnover. Fulton’s mobility rate for the 2022-23 school year was 19.1%, state data shows. That means almost 1 in 5 students in the district changed schools at least once during the year, some possibly moving to schools outside of the district.

Private school enrollment in Fulton County is also increasing, officials said. The number of students attending private institutions rose from 11,760 during the 2021-22 school year to 11,940 students during the 2022-23 school year.

In addition, the school board opted not to renew charter schools RISE Grammar School and RISE Preparatory Academy last year, anticipating those roughly 800 students would return to traditional Fulton public schools. However, RISE appealed to the State Charter Schools Commission and those schools are now part of the state charter schools network.

Kindergarten teacher Valerie Robinson lines up her students as they go to lunch at RISE Grammar School on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023, in East Point. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

Fulton is Georgia’s most populous county and is the state’s fourth-largest school system. However, over the last decade, school enrollment has eroded. A decade ago during the 2013-14 school year, Fulton enrolled 95,095 students. During the 2023-24 school year, Fulton served 87,872 students.

Enrollment trends in metro Atlanta districts vary. School systems such as Forsyth, Henry and Gwinnett have steadily grown over the last decade, while Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Atlanta Public Schools have seen enrollment declines, according to state data.

The downward trend is expected to continue in the upcoming years. Peeks said Fulton expects a decrease of 600 students next school year.

“As we look to the future, we anticipate a steady continuation of enrollment decline over the next five years by 2,360 students,” she said.

The decline in Fulton’s student population is happening across the 70-mile-long district. Officials divide the school district into three parts: north, central and south. One possible silver lining, Fulton says, is despite the overall drop, south Fulton’s population is expected to grow due to new housing developments.

Some board members said to spur enrollment, the district should brag a little more.

“I’d love to see us (put) more effort into marketing of our schools and our school system as to what we have to offer,” said School Board Vice President Kristin McCabe.

“I would like for us to think about ... if people are building (homes), how do we get them into our schools?” said Franchesca Warren, who represents areas in south Fulton. “I tell my community that we have great things happening, but if you listen to what has been historically said (about south Fulton), you will be cautious to enroll your children.”

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Here’s how enrollment has changed in Fulton County’s school system over the last five school years:

School Year Enrollment

2023-24: 87,872

2022-23: 89,723

2021-22: 90,415

2020-21: 90,376

2019-20: 93,948

Source: Fulton County Schools.