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About 290,000 students show up on CPS' first day

Students arrive for the first day of school at Kelvyn Park High School in Chicago on Monday, Sept. 8, 2015. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

About 290,000 children turned up for the first day of Chicago Public Schools, the district said Thursday, about 2,000 fewer than last year’s first day.

CPS said it expects more than 306,000 students in kindergarten to 12th grade will attend district-run schools this year, spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. Last year’s projected enrollment was about 311,000 students, but 292,539 showed up on opening day.

The district won’t take an official count until the 20th day of school, which falls on Oct. 5 this year. That number affects state funding for the district, as well as per-pupil funding allocated to each school.

But Bittner said in July that CPS had projected it would lose about 4,000 students from last year in the schools it oversees, so the district is encouraged that it has so far lost 2,000.

Charter schools that don’t use CPS’ attendance software — the vast majority of charters — aren’t part of the count. Nor are inactive students or those who aren’t officially enrolled in district schools. CPS looks at who attended last year and who’s enrolled and divides that projection by how many children show up, Bittner said.

Last year, CPS’ total enrollment including charters and preschoolers, dipped below 400,000 for the first time since at least 1970. It’s been on the decline for more than a decade.

But for several years in a row, the district has claimed its first-day attendance topped the previous year.

This year, CPS said it focused not only on getting new students in the door but also on students who missed last year’s first day or had more than nine unexcused absences last year. District staffers knocked on doors and made telephone calls to children’s homes. Pro athletes from the Bulls, Bears, Sky and Cubs also were recruited for public service announcements.

“Students who are in class on the first day of school will learn more and perform better,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in a statement. “We’re grateful to the parents, community partners and students who made an effort to get to school ready to learn on the first day.”

According to its own formula, CPS saw 94.8 percent attendance on Tuesday. Last year, it claimed 93.7 percent and the year before that, 93.5 percent.

Former CEO Arne Duncan, who’s now U.S. secretary of Education, began touting first-day attendance, and in 2009, he said it was a record 94.1 percent.