116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
New information from the Iowa Department of Education predicts a promising enrollment future for the state's public school districts.
The population of students served in public schools is expected to increase by 4,351 learners by 2017-18, according to the department's new enrollment projections released Thursday. Statewide certified enrollment for the 2012-13 school year is 476,245 students and that number is anticipated to rise to 480,596 in five years; another step in reversing a 16-year trend of declines.
'It's definitely good news to see growth of the state, particularly in the younger population, the K-12 school aged children,' said Jay Pennington, chief of the bureau of information and analysis services for the Iowa Department of Education.
The Waukee Community School District is projected to see the largest percentage enrollment increase within the next five years, with 26.5 percent growth predicted. The Harris-Lake Park, Sioux Center, Clear Creek Amana and Rock Valley community school districts are forecast to post the state's respective second through fifth largest enrollment increases by percentage.
'It's a great opportunity for us,' said Denise Schares, superintendent of the Clear Creek Amana schools. 'It's certainly a challenge that's an exciting opportunity as well.'
Clear Creek Amana administrators have formed a facilities committee and worked with Gerard Rushton, a professor in the University of Iowa's Department of Geography, to get its own set of enrollment projections and develop plans to address the additional 386.8 students the state predicts will join the district in the next half-decade. Committee members are in the process of determining methods to increase space for elementary- and middle-school students and Schares said the committee will eventually bring that recommendation to the school board for approval later this month.
The department's projections show that Waukee is also expected to lead the state in the largest increase of students by number, with 2,046.7 new learners anticipated to enter the district by 2017-18. The Iowa City Community School District, with an additional 1,513.6 additional students, took second in the state. The Ankeny, Des Moines Independent and Pleasant Valley districts filled out the top five in the category.
The increase isn't news to Stephen Murley, superintendent of the Iowa City schools, who saw similar information courtesy of DeJONG-RICHTER, the consulting firm the district retained to develop a 10-year look at enrollment projections. Board members discussed that data during an April 2 regular meeting.
'Given both of those enrollment projections we got, we knew there was a range of growth we can expect within the next 10 years,' Murley said. 'It's definitely good news.'
The district is in the midst of facilities planning and Murley said administrators are looking at new ways to accommodate the growing student body. These fixes include expanding courses offered during the zero hour, a class period before the school day officially begins at district high schools, and allowing students to utilize the Kirkwood Community College's Johnson County Regional Center once it opens.
Pennington attributed much of the growth to birth rates, but noted that the data can only explain so much.
'The numbers don't tell you why,' he said. 'I think there are economic realities that these numbers sort of bear. You are seeing fewer folks stay in the more rural parts of the state. That movement into urban suburban areas has magnified.'
The news wasn't all good, however. The Ventura Community School District is projected to lose almost a third of its 227.7 students within the next five years. That 32.1 percent decrease makes it the district with the largest projected percentage loss in the state, followed by the Essex, Villisca, Odebolt-Arthur and Prairie Valley community school districts.
In terms of actual students, the Dubuque Community School District is expected to see the biggest drop over the next five years, losing 338.6 students. The Chariton, Fort Dodge, Ottumwa and Clinton districts will complete the top five in that category.
The Cedar Rapids Community School District, which endured the state's largest loss of actual students in the last five years, is projected to continue shedding students within the next half-decade. The district's current certified enrollment is 16,651.1 and that number is expected to shrink to 16,551.4 by 2017-18; a decrease of 99.7 students or 0.6 percent.
The good news for statewide enrollment is expected to be temporary, according to Pennington.
'At this point it looks like, after 2017-18, we'll see it plateau and then likely go back down again because we're not seeing as many births as we had that created that increase,' he said.
School district administrators and legislators can utilize the enrollment projections in creating their financial forecasts for subsequent fiscal years, because education funding relies on the student population data.
'These won't be used immediately but they will be used in future years for projections,' Pennington said. 'Having the most current data is certainly helpful in planning. These numbers will probably be more relevant in the next legislative session next year.'