Idaho’s public school enrollment has officially passed a milestone this year, eclipsing 300,000 students for the first time.
This fall, statewide public school enrollment was calculated at 302,332 students, up from 298,787 a year ago, according to new data released by the State Department of Education. That’s an increase of 3,545 students, or almost 1.2 percent.
The 300,000 threshold has been a bit elusive. Initially, it appeared that 2016-17 enrollment eclipsed the mark, based on fall estimates. Later in the school year, the headcount fell back below 300,000.
Enrollment is important because it relates to how the state funds public schools and charters. Currently, Idaho uses an average daily attendance calculation to fund schools. However, a legislative interim committee has recommended that Idaho transition to a student-centric, enrollment-based model of funding.
Each year, Idaho lawmakers set the public school budget based on average daily attendance and student enrollment growth predictions. And the Legislature uses the Public Education Stabilization Fund — a rainy day savings account — as a buffer, state budget analyst Robyn Lockett said. If lawmakers underestimate student growth, lawmakers will borrow the money from PESF to cover for any shortfall. On the other hand, any money that is over-budgeted will automatically be deposited in the PESF savings account if growth doesn’t materialize in a given year, Lockett told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
As of Thursday morning, the balance is PESF was about $65 million.
While statewide enrollment was up, students moved around.
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The state’s largest school district, West Ada, continued to get larger, according to SDE data. West Ada added another 818 students this year to reach 39,339 pupils, resulting in growth of 2.1 percent. That means that about 13 percent of all Idaho public school students now attend West Ada schools.
It wasn’t just large schools that grew larger this year. The once-tiny Oneida School District reported enrollment ballooned by 31.4 percent this year — up from 1,090 students a year ago to 1,432 this year. Last fall, Idaho Education News reported that Oneida signed an unorthodox contract with a Utah-based online curriculum provider to absorb some 450 digital homeschool students across the state. Despite the enrollment increasing on paper, many or all of those digital students will never set foot inside Oneida’s brick-and-mortar schools.
Some online virtual schools saw drastic drops in enrollment. Idaho Virtual Academy reported an enrollment decrease of 7.3 percent this year — from 1,974 to 1,830 this year.
The Idaho Falls School District also reported a decrease of 1.2 percent. The East Idaho district reported enrollment dropping from 10,294 a year ago to 10,169, a decrease of 125 students.
Enrollment movers and shakers
- 2016-17: 38,521
- 2017-18: 39,339
Percent change: 2.1 percent
- 2016-17: 1,090
- 2017-18: 1,432
Percent change: 31.4 percent
- 2016-17: 5,578
- 2017-18: 5,900
Percent change: 5.8 percent
- 2016-17: 8,826
- 2017-18: 9,142
Percent change: 3.6 percent
- 2016-17: 12,207
- 2017-18: 12,506
Percent change: 2.4 percent
- 2016-17: 15,611
- 2017-18: 15,295
Percent change: 2 percent decrease
Idaho Virtual Academy
- 2016-17: 1,974
- 2017-18: 1,830
Percent change: 7.3 percent decrease
Idaho Distance Education Academy
- 2016-17: 667
- 2017-18: 521
Percent change: 21 percent decrease
- 2016-17: 26,542
- 2017-18: 26,407
Percent change: 0.5 percent decrease
- 2016-17: 10,294
- 2017-18: 10,169
Percent change: 1.2 percent decrease
* Source: Idaho State Department of Education