Public schools in Idaho are enrolling 4,554 fewer students than last year, marking the first time since 1997 that the state has seen declining enrollment.
Overall, 110 of the state’s 182 districts and public charter schools have lost students, according to new data from the State Board of Education.
Virtual and online schools generated almost all of the growth.
The biggest increase: The Oneida School District, which enrolled nearly 4,500 new students in the Idaho Home Learning Academy.
The biggest drop occurred in booming Meridian. The West Ada School District has lost more than 2,200 students this year, marking its first drop in enrollment in three decades.
Parents who are uncomfortable sending their children to school during the COVID-19 crisis, frustrated with school masking requirements, or seeking stability instead of chaotic school schedules are likely to be at risk. origin of the trend.
Kathy Hobbs told Idaho Education News this summer that she pulled her two students from an elementary school in West Ada and enrolled them in the Oneida program instead because of the “vacuum of uncertainty” over how the exam would unfold. school year at West Ada.
“At the rate things are going with the year, we’re all going to be late anyway, so why not try something new,” Hobbs said. “Maybe we’ll come across something that will give us that little nudge to bet on the right path, or maybe even forward.”
Other online schools have also seen big gains:
- Idaho Virtual Academy added 1,916 students.
- Inspire Academics won 925 children.
- The Snake River School District opened a new online school and increased enrollment by 417 students.
Snake River Superintendent Mark Kress started the school online to catch some of the students in his district and the southwestern part of the state who didn’t want to go back to school in person. Students from all over Idaho signed up.
“Either you step into the game and provide more of a variety of education, or you keep shrinking,” Kress said. “It’s not a new idea, just something other schools have done. We created this as an opportunity for our school district to do something different than what we have done before.
The state’s largest districts — Boise, West Ada and Nampa — reported enrollment losses of about 6%, and some smaller districts faced even steeper declines.
The Coeur d’Alene School District lost about 1,000 students this year, a drop of 10%. Lake Pend Oreille lost approximately 435 or 12% of the student population.
Traditional districts are reporting a drop in kindergarten enrollment, especially as parents opted to keep their youngest children at home during the pandemic. Kindergarten is not compulsory in Idaho.
Enrollment is a crucial part of school funding in Idaho, especially this year. The State Board announced this summer that it would award funding to schools based on student enrollment, rather than the traditional average daily attendance model. The move was intended to give schools some funding consistency as children transition from in-person to online instruction due to the pandemic.
School districts that have experienced large losses have some guarantee in the form of a state policy that states that schools will lose no more than 3% of their previous year‘s funding if enrollment drops.
Charter schools are not eligible for this policy. The stakes are high if their students decide to leave.
“If 50% of their students leave, they lose all that money,” said Terry Ryan, CEO of the nonprofit BLUUM.
And some charters have certainly lost students this year. The Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center lost 105 students, according to State Board data. The Village Charter School in Boise reported a drop of 90.
Check back with Idaho Education News in the coming days for more stories about enrollment trends during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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