CR School enrollment declines

March 28, 2014 | 9:32 am

I mentioned in an earlier post that Iowa K-12 school enrollment posted an increase in 2012-2013.

But Cedar Rapids saw declines:

Iowa’s kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment had its first significant year-to-year jump since 1996 – adding 2,741 students, a .6 percent increase, for a total of 476,245 learners – but 167 of the state’s 351 school districts lost students between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years. The Cedar Rapids Community School District shed 127 students in that time, second only to the Davenport Community School District’s 191-student decrease.

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 The picture is less rosy from a five-year perspective, with Iowa showing an overall loss of 774 students, a .16 percent decrease, since the 2008-09 school year. In that time, the Cedar Rapids district’s enrollment shrunk by 851 learners, the largest drop in the state and almost three times the size of the time frame’s second biggest decline, 286 students in the Clinton Community School District.

 “The district had been going along losing about 100 to 120 students a year, a very modest decline historically,” said Dave Benson, superintendent of the Cedar Rapids district. “The [2008] flood hit, and over a two year period we lost over 500 students, attributed to the loss of housing in the community due to the flood. That accelerated that loss.”

Back in February, during the Polk saga, I tried to pin down the flood-related losses and found a more complicated picture:

The Cedar Rapids School District is considering school closures and boundary changes, due, in large part, to declining enrollment. And officials have lamented often how the 2008 flood caused steady declines to nose dive.

So I wondered about the size of the nose dive. How many students left the district as a result of flooding?

I checked the district’s comprehensive enrollment report, a hefty work of consultantry looming large in the current debate, and found a chart of past enrollments on page 20. It showed that between the school year before the flood, 2007-08, and the year after, 2008-09, K-12 enrollment increased by 139. Can’t be right. Another chart in the same report showed a loss of 129.

The district provided numbers that peg the pre-to-post-flood drop at 416, although that’s an overall number not necessarily tied directly to the flood. The state’s Basic Education Data System shows a 349-student drop. Other state spreadsheets I found depicting “certified enrollment” and “budget enrollment” gave still more differing answers. I may never know for sure.

But my time wasn’t wasted. If you dig around enrollment figures long enough, it becomes clear that the flood isn’t the big story.

For instance, according to state education reports, 928 students used open enrollment to leave the Cedar Rapids district this school year, compared to 388 coming in the door. That’s a net loss of 540 students, and that loss gap is growing.

Just four years ago, the loss gap was 250. Then 356, 429 and now 540. Ten years ago it was 164.

About a month later, in March, I found out the 540 student loss was really larger as an actual headcount:

The district’s budgetary loss of 541 is actually a net loss of 710 students. That’s because 287 kids the district is losing to Marion’s home school assistance program, according to the district, don’t count as fully funded students in the context of state aid. Trade those calculations for a real head count, and you’ll see 1,144 kids open enrolling out and 434 coming in.

Ten years ago, the net loss was 204. In 2007-08, it was 280. In the past three years, the gap has grown from 481 to 597 to 710.

(I haven't seen the open enrollment numbers for the current school year. If you have, send along a link.)

So the flood is a factor, to be sure. But I don't think it's the whole story on why enrollment is declining at a troubling pace. Even if Benson is right about the 500, subtracting them still leaves Cedar Rapids with the state's largest five-year decline.

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