Our recent Brief on the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program and its effects on enrollment and achievement can be expanded upon with the arrival of new enrollment numbers for the 2010-11 and the 2011-12 school years. Total K-12 enrollment (measured by the number of students enrolled on the last day of school) fell slightly from 25,042 to 24,624, about 418 students.
Recall that one of the stated goals of the Promise is to "mitigate and reverse…enrollment declines in the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS)". Taken at face value, the Promise is not looking to grow charter school enrollment, even though those students meeting performance, residency, and attendance benchmarks qualify for Promise funds. The goal is to entice students to remain or attract new ones to the PPS.
RAND performed the first large scale evaluation of the Promise and focused on enrollment in grades 5-12 two years before the Promise first awarded scholarships (2005-06 and 2006-07) and three years of awarding scholarships (2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10) "…in order to gauge whether any ‘trickle down’ effects on enrollment may occur as those students and their parents began to prepare for high school". In actual numbers for grades 5-12 for those five years, enrollment trended this way (in 000s): 17, 17, 15.9, 15.0, 14.5.
Adding in the two new years since the report (10-11 and 11-12) for those grades showed enrollment at 14.8 and 14.6. Slightly higher than 09-10, but lower than the pre-Promise years covered by the evaluation. Boosters could argue that as a percentage of school-age youth in the City PPS enrollment has been steady, but that’s not reversing the trend of falling enrollment. They could say that students are staying in City-based charters, but that’s not stated in the goal, either.
In late December the Pittsburgh Promise Program secured a corporate grant from BNY Mellon. The $500,000 gift is the Program’s second largest corporate donation, trailing only UPMC’s pledge of $100 million. While corporations are certainly allowed to donate money as they see fit, we question whether they are doing a lot of good with the Pittsburgh Promise contribution-especially when compared to other worthy education grant opportunities.
Pittsburgh Public Schools have released their official attendance figures for the 2009-2010 school year. While it continues the downward trend they have been experiencing for the past several years, they seem satisfied that the latest year over year decline is smaller than it had been. We remind them that given the enormous amounts of money placed by various foundations and businesses into the Pittsburgh Promise Scholarship program, the latest enrollment figures are not very promising.
When the Pittsburgh Promise program was launched to great fanfare in 2006, the enrollment stood at 30,969. The program was designed to not only keep students in the schools by promising them college scholarships if they graduated with certain grade point levels, it was also to encourage parents whose children may have attended private schools or home schooled to enroll in the public system. Given that the current figure of 26,123 represents a decline of nearly 16 percent since the program began, it looks as if that plan has failed miserably.
The fact that enrollment from the 2008-2009 school year to the current has only decreased by two percent is not much to cheer about. Considering that the City and the nation have been mired in a recession for more than a year, it could be that parents who have been squeezed by falling incomes might choose public school over a private option. It could also be that many parents who are trying to leave the City are held back by a weak real estate market and are unable to sell their houses.