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Hispanic enrollment in CMS rebounds from pandemic, while white enrollment keeps dropping

Nancy Pierce
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

A new diversity report from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools shows Hispanic students are the only racial group that has rebounded from last year's pandemic enrollment slump. White students have seen the biggest continued declines.

CMS, like most school districts in North Carolina and around the country, saw enrollment fall off sharply last year, when schools opened with remote instruction. All racial groups saw enrollment decline between 2019 and 2020.

Earlier this week CMS announced that this year's anticipated rebound didn't materialize. Here's what the racial breakdownsfrom 2019, 2020 and 2021 add to that.

Hispanic students

Hispanic enrollment had been growing steadily for several years. It dropped slightly in 2020 but grew again this year.

CMS now has just over 40,000 Hispanic students, accounting for 28.5% of enrollment. That's up about 2% over 2019.

The Census tallies 15% of Mecklenburg County residents as Hispanic. An Axios analysis of 2020 Census data shows Hispanic population grew by 52% in a decade, compared with 17% for Black Mecklenburg residents and 7% for white ones.

White students

The Census Bureau says 45% of all county residents are white, but this year CMS enrollment fell just below 25% white.

The number of white students has been inching down for years, and that decline accelerated during the pandemic. CMS had about 39,400 white students in 2019, 36,000 in 2020 and not quite 35,000 this year. That's a one-year drop of 4% and a two-year drop of 12%.

Black students

CMS currently has just under 51,000 Black students, or 36% of total enrollment. That's down from about 53,000 in 2019, a 4% two-year drop. The total was virtually the same as last year's, declining by less than 1%.

Black people account for about 17% of all Mecklenburg County residents.

Asian students

The Axios report says Asians were the fastest growing segment of Mecklenburg County's population, increasing 72% between 2010 and 2020. The number of Asian students had been rising slowly in CMS before the pandemic, but they remained a relatively small portion of the overall student body.

Asian enrollment stayed virtually flat last year, accounting for about 10,200 students in 2019 and 2020. This year it dropped about 3%, to 9,900. That's 7% of all students.

Causes remain unclear

The diversity report provides a snapshot of what happened with enrollment, but not why.

Before COVID-19 hit, CMS and many other school districts were seeing enrollment flatten or drop slightly. That was driven by declining birth rates – what some have dubbed a baby bust – which was sometimes offset by new arrivals from other counties, states or nations.

North Carolina saw enrollment increase in charter and home schools last year, as many families sought in-person classes or opted to keep young children home during the pandemic. A state report that will provide 2021 numbers from all North Carolina charter schools and school districts is expected next week.

Tallies for private and home schoolsare posted after the end of the school year.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.