K-12 enrollment is down by nearly 3,200 students

Enrollment in Idaho’s K-12 public schools is down by nearly 3,200 students from last school year, despite unprecedented growth at virtual schools.

In all, 105 districts and charter schools lost students, numbers from the State Department of Education show. The 1 percent drop from last year — Idaho’s first overall enrollment decline in decades — accompanies an unprecedented influx of students at virtual schools and newly created remote learning programs in districts scrambling to provide flexibility for families during the coronavirus pandemic.

Enrollment is important because it impacts some $2 billion in state tax dollars earmarked annually for schools. The latest enrollment tally will shape a large portion of these payouts districts and charters are scheduled to receive next month.

Here’s a closer look at 2020-21’s overall enrollment decline amid concentrated growth at virtual schools:

How many students did schools lose overall? 3,188. Last school year, Idaho capped off a nearly 30-year growth rally, with 311,991 students.

This year’s decline brings the number to 308,803.

Who saw the biggest declines? In terms of raw numbers, Idaho’s largest school district, West Ada, saw the biggest drop, with a single-year loss of 2,584 students.

Big districts across the Treasure Valley and North Idaho rounded out the top five spots for loss. Two saw even bigger percentage drops than West Ada.

A closer look at the declines:

District

2019-20 Enrollment

2020-21 Enrollment

Change 

% Change

West Ada

40,326

37,742

-2,584

-6.4%

Boise 

28,587

25,484

-1,627

-6.4%

Coeur d’ Alene

11,075

10,044

-1,031

-9.3%

Nampa

14,039

13,226

-813

-5.8%

Vallivue

9,540

8,909

-631

-6.6%

Districts in central and Eastern Idaho also tallied notable declines. The Pocatello-Chubbuck District lost 582 students from last year. Twin Falls lost 498.

Idaho’s public charter schools saw a net increase of 5,118 students, thanks largely to enrollment hikes at various virtual schools and the creation of five new charter schools.

Still, several brick-and-mortar charters took heavy hits. Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center lost 104 students, a 19 percent drop from last school year. Treasure Valley’s Village Charter lost 83 students, and Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy lost 58.

Who grew? While dozens of smaller brick-and-mortar districts and charters tallied some gains from last year, virtual schools in both districts and charters dominated growth from last year.

For the fourth straight year, the Oneida School District’s Idaho Home Learning Academy led the statewide pack, adding some 4,500 new students. The unprecedented influx took the district’s enrollment from 3,329 to 7,818 since last year alone — a 134.8% increase.

A closer look at who grew:

District/Charter

2019-20 Enrollment

2020-21 Enrollment

Change

% Change

Oneida County district 

3,329

7,818

4,489

134.8%

Idaho Virtual Academy

1,736

3,818

2,082

119.9%

Inspire Virtual Charter 

1,048 1,830 782 74.6%
iSucceed Charter High School 657 978 321 48.9%
Gem Prep Online 322 575 253 78.6%

Fledgling online programs helped other districts add students. The Snake River district added 458 kids from last year, a 25 percent hike. Nearby Blackfoot, which promoted it’s own online program for parents apprehensive about sending their kids to school, grew by 149, or just over 3 percent.

How much will the declines impact funding? A lot, if your child attends a charter school.

Enrollment is a crucial part of school funding in Idaho this year. The State Board said before the school year that it would improve funding consistency by giving schools money based on student enrollment, instead of the traditional average-daily-attendance model.

For districts, there’s a safeguard in place. A state policy keeps schools from losing more than 3 percent of their previous year’s funding, no matter how far their enrollments dropped from the year prior.

Charter schools don’t qualify for that policy, so those seeing big drops will take heavy financial hits.

Check back with EdNews next week for more on how enrollment drops are impacting some charter schools.

EdNews data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this story. 

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow and the Idaho Press Club's 2019 print reporter of the year. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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