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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.

District 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.
HEADCOUNT – 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.”

Enrollment trends by district

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