The 10 school districts in NJ with biggest loss of students
TRENTON – Enrollments have been declining in roughly two-thirds of New Jersey schools, a trend that shows little sign of abating with birth rates and immigration slowing.
Compared with 20 years earlier, 64% of the state’s 541 municipal and regional school districts – excluding countywide systems for things like vocational programs and special education, as well as charter schools – had smaller enrollments in 2021-22, the most recent year for which data is available.
The trend is even stronger recently. Nearly 70% of districts were smaller in 2021-22 than 10 years earlier.
Those details are often overlooked in debates and complaints about state aid to schools, even though districts that are losing aid in the transition back to the funding formula are generally the ones where aid used to remain steady even as their school population shrank.
Below is a countdown of the 10 districts with the biggest percentage drop in population over the last 20 years, followed by an interactive graphic on which you can select a chart going back to 1998-99 for all districts and charter schools in New Jersey.
The enrollment in the Cumberland County township had been drifting down gradually, but the trend has accelerated in recent years – especially during the COVID-affected years. It dropped by more than 25% between the fall of 2020 and the fall of 2021.
Enrollment in Spring Lake is down by more than half in the last 20 years – including a 40% decline over the past decade. All told, 41 of the 50 school districts in Monmouth County have shrunk over the last 20 years, including drops of more than 30% in Asbury Park, Neptune City, Bradley Beach, Union Beach, Highlands, Henry Hudson Regional, Belmar, Oceanport, West Long Branch and Colts Neck.
Enrollments used to regularly top 1,100 students in this Atlantic County district, but it has dropped by more than half to 568 in 2021-22.
The number of students in the Camden County borough’s school system in 2021-22 was less than half its level from 2004-05. (By the way, that out-of-place plunge in the district's enrollment for 2006-07 is how the count is recorded in the state's data.)
The district in Hunterdon County, which enrolls kids in a PK-5 school, has never had a large enrollment, but it has been under 100 for four straight years now. This is separate from Hampton Township in Sussex County – which is also shrinking but not as much, down 38% in 20 years.
The small Cape May County city used to regularly enroll more than 400 students, but that’s now under 200. Its neighbors are faring better, especially in the 10 years. While North Wildwood was down 42% in the past decade, Wildwood Crest was down less than 10% and the city of Wildwood was up over 5%.
From its recent peak in 2004-05 to its low point in 2020-21, the enrollment in this Warren County district plunged more than 60% in 16 years. It’s a familiar story in its region: Just two of the 22 districts in Warren County have seen enrollment growth in the last decade, Phillipsburg and Hackettstown. Six are down by more than 30%.
New Jersey’s smallest school district with 57 students in its PK-5 school in 2021-22 … which was four more than a year earlier, though down from the already-small 142 at the turn of the 21st century. Its biggest class was its full-day preschool, which had 13 kids. The 5th grade had two students.
Most of the districts that are shrinking the fastest are small districts that have gotten smaller, with the exception of Camden. Its enrollment has gone from more than 18,000 students at the turn of the century to less than 7,000 in 2021-22. It reflects both a drop in the city’s overall population as well as alternatives such as charters and renaissance schools that now enroll more kids than the district.
Around 20 years ago, the small city on an island bordering Atlantic City regularly enrolled more than 1,200 students in its school district. But that’s been rapidly declining since 2002, plunging by more than two-thirds.
You can look up information on your school district using the drop-down arrow on the chart below.
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