Student enrollment levels off for first time in years

Idaho’s trend of student enrollment growth hit a wall this year, with the most recent data showing the smallest increase in six years.

Preliminary 2017-18 numbers released by the State Department of Education show that statewide enrollment increased by just 459 students from a year ago. The new report put statewide enrollment at 298,787, up from 298,328 a year ago.

By comparison, enrollment grew by 4,316 students between 2015-16 and 2016-17. What’s more, statewide enrollment has grown in each year since 2000, which is as far back as Idaho Education News tracked in researching this article.

Enrollment is an important, closely tracked statistic in Idaho. Enrollment is related to attendance, which drives a complicated formula that determines public school funding. (The State Board of Education recently endorsed a plan to move to a statewide enrollment-based model of school funding, which will make enrollment numbers even more important in the coming years.)

When building the 2017-18 state budget, lawmakers planned for another new influx of students this year. They projected an increase of 278 support units (a support unit roughly translates to the size of one school classroom) to build a public school general fund budget of about $1.7 billion. However, if enrollment remains flat, schools won’t see the growth, so lawmakers may have overbudgeted.

But SDE officials said the new enrollment numbers are preliminary, and it’s too soon to tell if there will be serious budget implications. SDE spokeswoman Kris Rodine said school administrators will send additional data to the state later this month that will be used to calculate average-daily attendance from the first day of school through last Friday.

“Those preliminary numbers may differ significantly from the next data collection,” Rodine said. “The picture becomes clearer and information is updated with actual enrollment numbers after January.”

While the statewide numbers show enrollment leveling off, that’s not to say different schools didn’t experience different things. The Oneida School District, which recently put out a no-bid contract to enroll hundreds of virtual homeschool students through the Utah-based education company, Harmony, reported growing by 400 students this year.

State numbers show the Nampa, Idaho Falls, Madison and Boise districts posted enrollment decreases of more than 100 students each. Enrollment was also down at Idaho Virtual Academy and the Idaho Distance Education Academy.

Aside from once-tiny Oneida, the school district with the largest numerical enrollment increase this year was the West Ada School District, which remains the state’s largest district. West Ada reported growing by 482 students this year.

By the numbers

Statewide enrollment, by year

2017-18: 298,846 (increase of 459).

2016-17: 298,787 (increase of 4,316).

2015-16: 294,471 (increase of 3,339).

2014-15: 291,022 (increase of 1,959).

2013-14: 289,063 (increase of 1,816).

Source: Idaho State Department of Education

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

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