Enrollment in District 196 schools remains stable again this year, but has not grown the past three years as it was projected to do prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Director of Finance and Operations Mark Stotts told the School Board at its Oct. 10 meeting.
Official enrollment counts are taken on the first day of school in October each year. The state uses the October count to determine some of the state funding school districts receive. Districts use the numbers to finalize budget and staffing allocations to schools.
Total enrollment in District 196 schools on Oct. 3, 2022 was 29,047 students, 39 fewer than the Oct. 1 count last year. Stotts said the biggest reason district enrollment isn’t growing as projected is the small size of the incoming kindergarten classes. On Oct. 3 this year, there were 1,802 kindergarten students at the district’s 19 elementary schools, compared to approximately 2,000 students at each of the other elementary grade levels. There was a similar difference last year, and Stotts said the same thing is happening at middle schools, with a slightly smaller incoming class of 6th graders compared to last year’s outgoing class of 8th graders.
The largest class in the district this year is grade 10, with 2,380 students. The breakdown by level shows that on Oct. 3, 2022, the district had:
- 11,865 elementary school students (grades K-5), a decrease of 103 students from last year;
- 6,318 middle school students (grades 6-8), a decrease of 119;
- 9,170 high school students (grades 9-12), an increase of 20;
- 1,214 students in center-based special education programs, an increase of 129, and
- 480 students in early childhood special education, an increase of 34 students from last year.
Students of color represent 43% of total enrollment in District 196 this year, up 2% from last year and 5% higher than the state average in 2021. Fifty-seven percent of students are White, 14.7% Black, 11.4% Hispanic, 8% Asian, 8.4% are two or more races, 0.4% are American Indian, and 0.1% are Pacific Islander. Students who qualify to receive English Learner (EL) services represent 7.5% of total enrollment in District 196 this year, compared to 8.9% statewide.
In 2019, District 196 enrollment hit an all-time high of 29,223 students. In 2020, former state demographer Hazel Reinhardt completed an enrollment study just prior to the pandemic, projecting the district could grow by as many as 3,000 additional students by 2030. Since then, enrollment decreased by 215 students (.74%) in the pandemic year of 2020-21, increased by 78 students (.27%) last year, and is down 39 students (.13%) this year.
Stotts said it is good to have had decreases of less than 1% per year, compared to some other districts that saw much larger drops in enrollment during the pandemic. However, he added, “Right now, we are significantly below the projections … in terms of how we thought we were going to grow. We are hoping the pandemic effect eventually goes back to normal and we will see that growth return, but time will tell.”
Soon the district will have information on homeschool and nonpublic school enrollment to see how these options are impacting projected enrollment. Stotts said District 196 consistently nets approximately 1,000 students through the state’s Enrollment Options program each year, and this year is no different, with approximately 1,000 more students enrolling into District 196 from other districts than those leaving District 196 to enroll elsewhere.
Even with lower-than-projected enrollment, Stotts said the district is still short on space because of new housing growth in the southeastern part of the district; growth in center-based special education enrollment, which requires more space per student, and a desire to offer preschool classes to more than the 7% of 3- and 4-year-old children who currently attend preschool classes from the district.
For the past 18 months, Stotts has headed up the district’s Facilities and Equipment Steering Committee of district and school administrators who reviewed capacity and condition of existing facilities, and current and future needs based on projected enrollment and other factors. Stotts said the committee will review the October enrollment information before finalizing its recommendations that will be presented to the administration by the end of this month. The administration is tentatively scheduled to present its recommendations on proposed facilities and equipment improvements to the School Board at the board’s Nov. 14 regular meeting.