K-12 student enrollment ticks up slightly

Initial enrollment numbers are in for K-12 schools across the state, showing that Idaho’s school-aged population has increased by just 0.3%, or about 1,000 students. 

That’s comparatively low; for years, Idaho’s annual enrollment growth hovered around 1.3%, until it dropped by 1.6% at the pandemic’s height in the 2020-2021 school year. That was the state’s first enrollment drop in 30 years. 

Last school year, enrollment increased by 1.7%. This school year, there’s growth again – though it’s modest. 

Year Enrollment % Change Numeric Change
22-23* 313,641* 0.3* 998*
21-22 312,643 1.7 5,301
20-21 307,342 -1.6 -1,483
19-20 308,825 1.7 5,038
18-19 303,787 1.5 4,562
17-18 299,225 1.2 3,487
16-17 295,738 1.5 4,266
15-16 291,472 1.2 3,331
14-15 288,141 0.7 1,936
13-14 286,205 0.7 1,964
12-13 280,725 1.3 3,516

*preliminary numbers

A zoomed-in look at districts and charters provides more nuances to the story. 

Charter schools boast 700 new students — due in part to four new schools this year. Still, nearly half of all existing charters show declines.

And the traditional school districts that are growing or shrinking sometimes defy expectations. 

Idaho Falls School District, which has been contending with overcrowded schools and has cited projected growth as a concern, only grew by about 60 students (0.6% growth, putting enrollment at 10,116). Voters recently denied the district’s request for a $250 million bond that would have funded construction of a new Idaho Falls High School, two new elementary schools, and extensive upgrades to Skyline High school.

Nearby Bonneville and Sugar-Salem saw some of the state’s biggest growth, with 267 and 385 more students, respectively. Oneida County tops the state’s growth list with 847 new students.

West Ada, Idaho’s largest district, had minimal growth (0.2%) and has still not returned to pre-Covid numbers. Numbers are down for the second year in a row at Idaho Virtual Academy, where enrollment has dropped by 419 students this school year. And Boise School District is in its seventh consecutive year of enrollment decline; with 22,580 students currently, enrollment is at its lowest since before 1990.

The numbers matter because they will determine the amount of funding each district will get from the state. The state used to allocate funding as determined by average daily attendance, but has switched to enrollment-based funding since the pandemic – a move that’s gained broad support from school leaders statewide. 

This batch of enrollment data is preliminary – the official numbers used for funding won’t be released until December. Nonetheless, this first glance provides a clue as to which districts and charters are growing or shrinking.

Read more below for some key takeaways from the latest State Board of Education data. 

Charter school enrollment is up overall; but just over half show growth

Charter school enrollment has increased by about 700 students this school year. Even so, enrollment has dropped at 30 out of 71 charters statewide. 

Most of the growth is due to four new charter schools: 

  • Gem Prep: Meridian South, which enrolled 194 students
  • Elevate Academy North (in Post Falls), which enrolled 227 students
  • Elevate Academy Nampa, which enrolled 332 students
  • Mountain Community School (in McCall), which enrolled 85 students

But there was also growth at existing charters. Here are the top five in terms of growth:

Charter Student growth Total Enrollment 22-23* % Growth from 21-22 to 22-23
Gem Prep: Meridian North 185 401 85.6
Alturas Preparatory Academy 85 380 28.8
Anser Charter School 81 493 19.7
Mosaics Public School 66 418 18.8
Kootenai Bridge Academy 56 340 19.7

*Preliminary numbers

Some existing charters also saw triple-digit student declines. Idaho Virtual Academy saw a 19.6% drop of 419 students, and Inspire Virtual Charter school had an 11.7% decrease of 175 students. 

Idaho Virtual Academy, an online-only school, saw its enrollment peak in the 2020-2021 school year (the height of the pandemic), and its numbers (1,720) are now at pre-pandemic levels. 

Inspire Virtual Charter’s enrollment also peaked during 2020-2021, but its current numbers (1,324) are higher by about 300 students than they were pre-pandemic.

Growth and decline vary from district to district

Here’s a look at the top five traditional public school districts in terms of growth:

School District Student growth Total Enrollment 22-23* % Growth from 21-22 to 22-23
Oneida County 847 7,807 12.2
Sugar-Salem 385 1,975 24.2
Vallivue 237 9,785 2.8
Bonneville 267 13,690 2
Wilder 187 645 40.8

*preliminary numbers

Oneida County School District includes four traditional brick-and-mortar schools and two online schools — one serving grades K-8 and the other serving grades 9-12. At the latter two schools, students from anywhere in the state can enroll. 

The district saw a huge enrollment increase — from about 3,300 students to about 7,900 — in 2020-2021, likely due to students moving online during the pandemic. The next year, enrollment dropped by about 900 students, and this year it’s up again by about 850 students.

Jon Abrams, the Oneida County School District superintendent, said this year’s number was “much higher than we anticipated.”

Why the big jump?

“I don’t know for sure,” Abrams said. “The best way our numbers grow is by word of mouth — parents talk.”

Abrams said parents like flexibility and choices, which his district offers — students can opt for in-person or online education.

Another district on this year’s top-growth list — Wilder — also has an online school. The Idaho Future-Ready Academy is new this year, serves grades K-12, and can enroll students from across the state — certainly contributing to Wilder’s enrollment increase.

In the growing Vallivue School district, a $55 million bond failed this summer, and would have paid for two elementary schools, renovations and security upgrades, and land purchases for new school sites.

In terms of declines, the Boise School District saw a 2% decrease of 467 students, putting enrollment at 22,580 — its lowest in more than 30 years. 

Nampa had a 1% drop of 141 students (putting enrollment at 13,283) and Caldwell has a 2% drop of 105 students (putting enrollment at 5,443). Post Falls lost 1.7% of students, or 105 (putting enrollment at 6,034) – likely due to the new charter schools that opened in those areas this fall. 

The state’s biggest districts, by enrollment 

According to the enrollment numbers, these are the state’s largest 10 traditional public school districts:

District Enrollment
West Ada 38,726
Boise 22,580
Bonneville 13,690
Nampa 13,283
Pocatello 12,088
Idaho Falls 10,116
Coeur d’Alene 10,042
Vallivue 9,785
Twin Falls 9,348
Oneida 7,807

Here are the preliminary enrollment numbers as of September 30.

Official enrollment numbers – those that will be used to determine funding – will be released in December. Idaho EdNews will follow up with another story at that time. 

Data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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