Who Is In Charge

Continued student growth predicted

Familiar K-12 patterns of enrollment growth in Front Range districts – and stagnation or decline in other parts of the state – will continue over the next few years, according to a recent analysis by legislative researchers.

School desksDistrict enrollments are a key factor in the complicated formula that determines school funding, and administrators watch projections closely as they plan future budgets.

The issue of enrollment counts could be especially important during the upcoming legislative session, when major changes in the school funding system most likely will be up for consideration. (See this story for details.)

One idea up for debate is changing the current method of counting enrollment, currently based on actual attendance during a narrow window of a few days in early October. Many legislators want a system that more accurately reflects districts’ enrollment over an entire school year.

Some legislators also want to consider  whether consolidation of small and declining rural districts would be a more efficient way of using education dollars.

According to Legislative Council projections, statewide enrollment will increase 1.2 percent in the 2013-14 school year and 1.3 percent in 2014-15.

The study predicts full-time equivalent enrollment will increase from 793,703 this school year to 803,250 in 2013-14 and 813,639 the following school year.

But enrollment growth won’t be spread evenly across the state, according to the projections. Of the nine regions used in the study, only two – metro Denver and the northern Front Range – are expected to see growth of greater than 1 percent in the next two school years. Here are the percentage projections by region for 2013-14 and 2014-15:

  • Colorado Springs: .7 and .7
  • Eastern Plains: -.2 and -.2
  • Metro Denver: 1.6 and 1.6
  • Mountain: .4 and .4
  • Northern: 1.6 and 1.7
  • Pueblo: .2 and .3
  • San Luis Valley: -.3 and .2
  • Southwest Mountain: -.1 and 0
  • Western: .6 and .7

Enrollment growth and decline are closely tied to the economy, according to the report. Growing districts “are located in more metropolitan areas that offer greater and more diverse job opportunities, which is particularly attractive in the current economy. These regions will continue to dominate growth through the forecast period.

FTE & Headcount FTE– Legislative researchers calculate enrollment as “fulltime equivalent” students, yielding a lower number than actual individual students. Kindergarten students are counted as halftime, so two kids equal one FTE.
– The Department of Education’s annual enrollment reports list actual students. CDE records list 843,316 students for fall 2010 and 854,265 for fall 2011. Numbers for last fall will be released later this month.

“However, some regions continue to struggle and many families are leaving these areas in search of work elsewhere. In the 2012-13 school year, the Eastern Plains, Pueblo, San Luis Valley, Southwest Mountain, and Western regions experienced enrollment declines. Many of the school districts in these regions continue to struggle with slow economic activity and an aging population.”

The rate of growth in metro-area districts is expected to slow slightly from the pace of recent years “due to low housing availability for young families and aging communities within the region.”

Metro growth will be strongest in the Brighton, Denver and Douglas County districts, with declines expected in Jefferson County, Littleton, Sheridan and Westminster.

Summing up, the report notes, “To the degree employment exceeds the current outlook, some regions may experience stronger than expected growth. Conversely, if the state’s economy performs more poorly than anticipated, some school districts may see enrollment declines greater than projected.”

Map of school district enrollment trends

Enrollment trends by district

Legislative Council map shows projected enrollment changes by district in the 2013-14 school year. (Click to enlarge.)

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.