Atlanta Public Schools lowers enrollment forecast amid COVID losses

Atlanta Public Schools’ enrollment projections for the next 10 years have dropped as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a revision that could drive changes at some campuses.

The district recently resumed work on a facilities master plan, which will inform decisions about how best to use schools and properties. Recommendations could include opening new schools or merging others based on projected student numbers.

APS recently unveiled an updated enrollment forecast that predicts lower growth over the next decade than previously anticipated.

The district lost about 2,000 students during the pandemic. It currently enrolls 48,753 students in kindergarten through 12th grades.

At a recent meeting, consultants said they now estimate enrollment will nudge up, but only slightly, to 49,116 students by the 2031-2032 school year. Before the pandemic, they projected a more robust enrollment of 58,505 by 2030-2031.

“It’s a middle course. Not as aggressive growth as we thought was probable two years ago, and neither is it a drastic dive into a continued series of COVID pandemic scares,” said Tom Sayre, of the Sizemore Group.

APS hired the firm in 2019 to create the plan.

The revised enrollment projections could have implications for Atlanta schools.

The forecast suggests that within five years, six schools will be near capacity or over. They include Maynard Jackson and Midtown high schools and four elementary schools: Morningside, Springdale Park, Peyton Forest and West Manor.

Administrators previously recommended opening a fourth and fifth grade academy to serve students in and around Midtown. Some parents have criticized that proposal, saying it won’t solve overcrowding, among other concerns.

The forecast also predicts 31 Atlanta schools will be significantly underutilized, with enrollments less than 54% of their buildings’ capacities.

Lily Berrios, president of the Sizemore Group, said the updated projections were influenced by several factors, including interest in virtual learning, birthrates and housing changes.

The report also considered APS students who transferred to private schools and smaller kindergarten classes during the pandemic.

APS is planning additional public meetings about the master plan in the coming months.

Board members are expected to review in May and June any building recommendations that would impact students in the 2023-2024 school year. They will wait until the fall to consider recommendations that would affect schools in later years.