Lower Enrollments Puzzle Officials (CJ)

The image “https://i0.wp.com/www.learner.org/channel/libraries/connectarts68/05_connections/05images/05_aboutschool.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. A recent Carolina Journal article investigates some reasons why enrollments in most public school districts, including Guilford County, are down so far this year. Pretty interesting findings…take a look at this excerpt:

In districts that had projected and planned for sharp increases in student enrollment, the anticipated surge wasn’t materializing. Classrooms had been built, teachers and staff hired, and funds allocated based on projections of continued high growth. Now, school leaders in some districts are worried that they won’t have enough students to justify the increased expenditures.

It’s not that growth has stopped. Fast-growing counties, such as Union and Wake, continue to experience hefty increases in their student populations. But the rate of increase has slowed unexpectedly.

Union County Public Schools was bracing for a record 12 percent increase over last year’s numbers, but as of early October the growth in enrollment was 7.8 percent. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools planned on growing by more than 5,200 students, but fewer than 3,300 additional students have enrolled. Guilford, Wake, and Forsyth counties are also reporting shortfalls in growth projections.

While the easing tide of growth might provide some respite for districts that have been struggling to keep up, district finance officers are concerned that they soon might not get all of the state money their districts have already planned for. Before the school year begins, districts request funds based on estimates of how many students school officials think they will have. But if after two months of operations a district has 2 percent fewer students than anticipated, the district’s authority to draw state funds is reduced accordingly.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s case, it’s possible that district officials will receive $3 million to $5 million less than the $703 million they thought was coming. According to Maurice Green, chief operating officer of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, that could mean the loss of up to 40 teaching positions, although the Charlotte Observer has reported that the district plans to cover the position losses by reassigning teachers to vacant posts. In a report to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board in early October, Green said that the district would continue collecting data through the 40th day of enrollment and work toward a plan for dealing with allocated funds then.

A number of theories have been floated to explain this year’s dip in growth figures. The rising popularity of charter schools, private schools, and home schooling might account for some, but not all, of the shortfall in public school enrollment.

According to David Mills of the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education, an increasing number of parents are choosing these alternatives for their children’s education. Private school enrollment has gone up every year since 1992, and home schooling has increased steadily since at least 1986. But the rate of increase has been about the same as North Carolina’s overall growth in population. Mills said that figures for this year’s enrollment in private and home schools will not be available until June, but that he doesn’t that the school-choice options account for the slowdown in public school enrollment growth.

The nationwide slowdown in the housing market might also be a factor. North Carolina’s housing market has not decreased as badly as those in other states. But if families elsewhere have trouble selling their homes, some of the migration to North Carolina would be delayed.

E.C. 🙂

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