An unusual spike in students at traditional schools drives increase in IPS enrollment

Indianapolis Public Schools enrollment ticked up by about 1,100 students this school year — a significant bump for a school system that’s likely to close campuses in the coming years because of low enrollment and a tight budget.

That increase brings the total Indianapolis Public Schools students to about 32,600, according to early estimates. This year is also the first since 2013-14 that the district has seen enrollment growth at traditional district-managed schools. Recent years have seen increases driven primarily by innovation schools, which are considered part of the district but managed by outside operators.

Indianapolis Public Schools officials said the enrollment figures are preliminary, and they are still looking into why enrollment rose this year.

“We have an incredible opportunity to continue to make sure we are serving our students and families well,” Superintendent Aleesia Johnson told reporters Tuesday. “To me, it demonstrates a level of trust in our ability to do that while noting that, certainly, we’ve got a ways to go in getting the levels of achievement we want to see.”

Competition from suburban, charter, and private schools have led to decades-long enrollment declines. Now, district leaders are in a difficult position — campuses have space for far more students than attend, and the cost of running schools with low-enrollment is straining the budget. The boost will help the cash-strapped district because the state provides funding based on the number of students it educates.

As part of an agreement to win the Indy Chamber’s support for tax increases, the district is expected to close schools in the coming years. But how many campuses will shutter and how the district will select them is still uncertain. The district recently announced it is seeking a contractor to assess the condition and usage of all its buildings before making decisions about school closures.

The number of students at traditional Indianapolis Public Schools campuses rose by about 860 students to some 22,700. That tally includes neighborhood and magnet schools, which educate about 69 percent of the district’s students.

The other 5 percent of Indianapolis Public Schools students attend schools that were taken over by the state in 2012.

About 26 percent of Indianapolis Public Schools students — roughly 8,400 students — attend innovation schools, where enrollment went up by about 270 this year. Some of those campuses were previously district-managed schools that were overhauled with outside partners or given more freedom under the innovation model. Others are new schools or were previously independent charter schools that joined the innovation network.

Those innovation schools have helped stabilize enrollment in Indianapolis Public Schools. Their impact on the budget, however, varies because only some of them are in district buildings and they don’t receive or pay for the same central services as traditional schools. Teachers at innovation schools don’t work for Indianapolis Public Schools, and they are not represented by the district union.