Enrollment trends in American Jewish day schools are “worrisome,” with an increasing number of families seeing day school as optional, an educational consultant for the Avi Chai Foundation told The Jewish Week.
The consultant, Marvin Schick, just completed an annual census showing that day school enrollment outside the fervently Orthodox community experienced “modest decline” this year.
The census, released Tuesday, found 83,519 students enrolled in 297 schools in the United States for the 2011-12 academic year, down by 1.4 percent since 2010-11. Last year, enrollment had been relatively stable, following a 3 percent, recession-induced decline the previous year.
“The overall trend if you look at the last three years is modestly downward,” Schick said.
“There’s more talk about the tuition crisis, more talk about the impact of the economic downturn and more talk about options such as Hebrew charter schools,” he said.
Schick noted that while enrollment overall has dropped, some individual schools have grown.
“It’s a very dynamic area,” he said, noting that new schools are opening at the same time other schools are closing.
At least two schools, a pluralistic high school in East Brunswick, N.J., and a Modern Orthodox elementary school in Baltimore opened this year, but more have closed, including ones in Maryland, New Jersey, Arizona and Florida.
Enrollment declines were greatest within the Conservative movement’s Schechter network (down by 3.8 percent) and the RAVSAK community day school network (2.5 percent), which has a large number of schools enrolling 100 or fewer children.
In addition, South Florida — home to five Hebrew charter schools, two of which just opened this fall — has seen especially large day school declines, Schick said.
As schools in other parts of the country close or shrink, New York and New Jersey — home to the largest Orthodox communities — are accounting for an increasing share of total day school enrollment, he said.