While state sees decline in K-12 enrollment, Southern Utah districts see growth in most grades

Photo illustration. | Photo by Oksana Aksenova, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Utah’s K-12 public schools recorded 1,552 fewer students enrolled in 2020 than in 2019, according to data released Thursday by the Utah State Board of Education. For the Southern Utah districts, however, enrollment numbers have increased.

Students walk to school, St. George, Utah, Aug. 27, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

In a previous report from St. George News at the end of September, Steven Dunham, district communications director for the Washington County School District, said that while they had seen a decrease in students enrolled for in-person classes from the previous year, online enrollments had gone up. However, those numbers were before the official count.

According to the latest data collected Nov. 2, Dunham said, the district has seen an increase in enrollment since 2019, according to the latest data collected Nov. 2.

Last year in November, there were 33,811 student enrolled in the district. Current enrollment number are 35,346, which is an increase of 1,535 students enrolled in the district. Those numbers do not include students enrolled in online schooling.

Only three grades in the district saw a decrease in students: kindergarten with five students, third grade with 77 students and sixth grade with 68.

“Every other grade we’re up,” Dunham said, adding that they are up in triple digits in all other grades except for fifth, which has increased by 94 students. The highest growth has been at the senior level with 288 more students than last year.

The reason for the increase, he said, is likely due to the attractiveness of the district’s in-person, daily instruction, as well as general growth within the county, both from people coming from the Wasatch Front and out of state.

“Homes are selling rapidly. Home prices are increasing,” Dunham said. “We have a lot of growth generally, and then on top of that we have in-person instruction.”

Stock photo by Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash, St. George News

Full-time high school students enrolled in Utah Online School, which is part of the district, grew from 474 to 980, he said.

Iron County School District enrollment numbers have remained fairly consistent since the end of September, Superintendent Shannon Dulaney told St. George News in an email.

“There is movement within the models (remote, in-person) but we are staying between 10,500 and 10,600,” she said. “As I mentioned previously, we are up by about 1,000 students because of our new online options for students in our region who previously chose online options outside any district services and are now enrolling in our district online services.”

State numbers

According to a press release issued by the Utah State Board of Education, the decrease in overall students represents a 0.23% decline with a total of 665,306 students enrolled this year. It is the first decline in student enrollment since 2000, which had a 0.15% decline.

Moderate growth in student enrollment was seen in eighth through 12th grade. However, with the exception of second grade, all lower grades showed a decline in growth, particularly kindergarten, which experienced a 3.93% decline in enrollment – or 1,457 fewer students. Kindergarten is optional in Utah, though most children do enroll.

Utah Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sydnee Dickson speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on July 30, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson said in the statement that enrollment counts are especially important this year as schools deal with the effects of the pandemic.

“In addition to our annual October 1 head count, the Utah State Board of Education is taking additional enrollment counts throughout the year to help the state, districts, and charter schools keep track of students in this environment,” she said.

An enrollment count in September found that public school exit codes for students showed a decided upturn in both home schooling options for younger children and a larger than normal migration to private school options. There was also a drop in the enrollment of students in all grades who were not in a Utah school the previous year, indicating a decline of in-migration to the state.

A data point of concern is the decline in the number of students designated as economically disadvantaged: an 8.28% drop – or more than 17,000 students. The state board is working with districts and charters to get clarity on the issue. This does not mean that students are missing or not actually enrolled.

According to the statement, the code of the data that indicates a decrease may be due to federal policy that continued free school lunch for all through the end of the calendar year. This means parents would not have to fill out an eligibility form to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the measure used for calculating economic disadvantage among students.

More data from the October 1 census of Utah public schools can be found here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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