Cities face crisis as fewer kids enroll and schools shrink

Laiah Collins, 4, center, works on artworks during a class at Chalmers Elementary school in Chicago, Wednesday, July 13, 2022. America's big cities are seeing their schools shrink, with more and more of their schools serving small numbers of students. Those small schools are expensive to run and often still can't offer everything students need (now more than ever), like nurses and music programs. Chicago and New York City are among the places that have spent COVID relief money to keep schools open, prioritizing stability for students and families. But that has come with tradeoffs. And as federal funds dry up and enrollment falls, it may not be enough to prevent districts from closing schools. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO (AP) - On a recent morning inside Chalmers School of Excellence on Chicago's West Side, five preschool and kindergarten students finished up drawings. Four staffers, including a teacher and a tutor, chatted with them about colors and shapes.

The summer program offers the kind of one-on-one support parents love. But behind the scenes, Principal Romian Crockett worries the school is becoming precariously small.

Chalmers lost almost a third of its enrollment during the pandemic, shrinking to 215 students. In Chicago, COVID-19 worsened declines that preceded the virus: Predominantly Black neighborhoods like Chalmers' North Lawndale, long plagued by disinvestment, have seen an exodus of families over the past decade.

The number of small schools like Chalmers is growing in many American cities as public