By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
For the first time since 1996 student enrollment is up in Iowa schools, but that trend didn’t ring true in nearly 50 percent of school districts across the state — including Clinton.
A total of 476,245 students in kindergarten through 12th grade were enrolled in public schools statewide in the 2012-2013 school year, according to the certified enrollment count released by the Iowa Department of Education on Thursday. That represents an increase of 0.6 percent, or 2,741 students, from the 2011-2012 school year.
Clinton, however had the third greatest decrease in students from the last school year. The Clinton School District enrolled 3,966 students in the 2012-2013 school year. Enrollment is down by 1.2 percent, or 90 students, from last year.
Only Cedar Rapids and Davenport School districts lost more, with losses of 127 students, or .8 percent, and 191 students, or 1.2 percent, respectively.
Under state law, certified enrollment is used in the formula that determines state funding for public school districts. Certified enrollment is based on the number of students living in each school district. It also includes the “weighting,” or additional funding for students in certain programs, such as students who receive assistance in learning the English language.
The certified enrollment count is taken by districts on the first day of October each school year. Official numbers are confirmed by the Iowa Department of Education.
This decrease in student enrollment is not new for the Clinton School District, Superintendent Deb Olson said. In 1995 the district enrolled more than 5,000 students.
In the past five years, public school enrollment statewide has declined by 0.16 percent (from 477,019 students in 2008-2009 to 476,245 in 2012-2013).
Of Iowa’s 348 school districts, 233 (67 percent) reported an enrollment decrease during that five-year period, while 115 districts (33 percent) reported an increase.
Five-year trends from school districts statewide show Clinton has the second greatest decrease in student enrollment. Since the 2008-2009 school year, the district has lost 286 students. This year’s loss of 90 students will likely cost the district more than $800,000 next year.
Cedar Rapids, which topped the list, lost nearly three times the amount of students Clinton did during the same time period. In the past five years 851 students have left Cedar Rapids. However, the 2008 flood could have had an impact on those numbers. Council Bluffs, Davenport and Newton rounded out the top five school districts with the greatest student decreases.
While Olson said she can’t pinpoint where the students are going, she thinks the loss has to do with the local economy and services such as Workforce Development and Social Security offices departing from Clinton to be consolidated with offices in the Quad-Cities.
“If they can’t get what they need here, they will go somewhere they can,” she said.
Although the Clinton School District lost a large number of students compared to other districts across the state, it fared far better in terms of percentage of students lost than more rural districts in the state. In the past five years Clinton has lost 7 percent of its student population while Stratford Community School District lost a quarter of the 213 students it enrolled in 2008-2009. The Forest City, Farragut and Ventura School Districts all lost 20 percent of their students over the past five years.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Waukee, Ankeny, Des Moines, Iowa City and Pleasant Valley school districts gained the greatest number of students over the past five years. Waukee also topped the list of highest percent increase in students. In the past five years the student body has increased by 29 percent, or 7,721 students.
Officials with the Iowa Department of Education are tying the statewide enrollment increase this year to the upsurge in live birth rates from 2003 to 2008. Statewide birth rates spiked in 2007, but have declined in recent years.
“This statewide increase is refreshing news for Iowa after years of declining enrollment. However, the reality is that this increase most likely is temporary,” said Jay Pennington, chief of the Iowa Department of Education’s Bureau of Information and Analysis.
Clinton County’s birth rate peaked in 2006 with 653 live births that year. Since, it has declined to 589 live births in 2009, the latest year the data is available. Regardless, Olson said the live birth rate in Clinton County has not been a very good indicator of enrollment. This is due in part to the 20 percent transient rate the district has.
“Since the count date of October 1, we’ve had 150 students enroll,” Olson said. “We’ve had just as many leave.”
Even with declining enrollment figures, the Clinton School District has continued to improve facilities using the 1 cent sales tax. The recent fitness addition to the high school that was completed last year, proposed innovation classrooms and the new middle school slated to open in 2014 are facilities Olson hopes will help draw families to the area and have a positive impact on enrollment figures.
“You want to have the best things you can for the community,” Olson said. “This is something that’s concerning, but it’s not going to stop us from providing the best education we can to our students.”