Northwest Arkansas public school enrollment returns to pre-covid level

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Public school enrollment in northwest Arkansas rebounded from a decline last year.

A total of 89,450 students were enrolled in the 15 traditional school districts and six charter school districts in Benton and Washington counties as of Oct. 1, according to recently released data from the Arkansas Department of Education.

This is an increase of 1.7% from the 87,973 students registered on October 1, 2020, and an increase of 0.7% from the fall of 2019, just before the covid pandemic -19 does not hit.

Statewide, kindergarten to grade 12 public school enrollment increased 0.2%, from 473,004 last year to 473,861 this year, according to the department; however, this is still below the 479,432 recorded in October 2019.

Last year, enrollments in northwest Arkansas fell 1.1% from October 2019 numbers, a drop most school administrators attribute to the pandemic. The decline was most pronounced at the kindergarten level, where enrollment fell 8.3% from the previous year.

Kindergartens are back this year. Registrations are up 10% at this level from last year in Northwest Arkansas. Statewide, kindergarten enrollment increased 5.2%, from 34,791 to 36,609.

Enrollment in the Gentry School District increased 5.7% from last year to an all-time high of 1,527. This was largely helped by a 63% increase in kindergarten enrollment. from 76 students last year to 124 this year.

Kindergarten enrollments last year were unusually low due to the pandemic, but this year’s number was surprisingly high, said Terrie Metz, superintendent of Gentry. Metz expects growth in the neighborhood to continue.

“What I’m told is that we have some of the most affordable housing in the area, and we have several small residential developments under construction,” she said. “Young families are settling in our neighborhoods under construction.

Enrollments in schools and school districts are recorded each year on October 1. Enrollments affect the amount the state allocates to districts. State funding is based on the average number of K-12 enrollments in the first three terms of the previous school year. Funding for the state foundation this year is $ 7,182 per student.

Schools are filling up again

Enrollment numbers for Oct. 1, 2020 showed that only five of Northwest Arkansas’ 15 traditional public school districts saw an increase from the previous year. The largest increase was 1.5% in the Elkins School District.

This fall, however, 12 of those districts saw their enrollment increase. The school districts of Bentonville, Decatur, Gentry, Gravette, Lincoln and Pea Ridge all saw increases of 3% or more from last year.

Overall, charter school enrollment in the region also increased by 2.4%, not counting local students enrolled in the state’s two virtual charter schools, which together enroll more than 7,000 students. across the state this year.

The Bentonville School District reported 18,536 students as of Oct. 1, a 3.1% increase from 17,970 last fall. The increase continues a relatively stable growth trend that has seen Bentonville’s listings increase by 31% since 2011. Bentonville is the third largest district in the state behind Springdale and Little Rock.

The Evening Star Elementary School in Bentonville is growing. The school has 810 students this fall, up from 698 a year ago and 637 when it opened in 2019. The school’s ideal capacity is 720, according to principal Ashley Williams.

“We’re looking at every space we have,” Williams said of accommodation for the additional students.

Activity teachers – those who teach things like art and music – don’t have a classroom of their own. Instead, they travel from room to room with carts, Williams said.

Overcrowding at Evening Star is expected to be temporary. Vaughn Elementary, under construction about 5 miles northwest, will open next fall. It is expected to absorb nearly 200 Evening Star students as well as students from three other schools, Williams said.

“We really have great families and great staff and their understanding of the growth in Bentonville is appreciated as we all work together to bring the students to their zoned schools,” she said.

Elsewhere, the Rogers and Fayetteville school districts gained about 250 and 200 students, respectively, from last year, although both districts still lost about 100 students from their fall 2019 enrollments.

Springdale has retained its position as the state’s largest district with 21,796 students, despite a drop of 86 from the October 1 enrollment figure of last year. The Little Rock School District had the second highest enrollment at 20,786.

The region’s open-enrollment charter schools have grown from 3,841 students last year to 3,932 this year, an increase of 2.4%. Open enrollment charter schools are public schools operated by nonprofit organizations other than traditional school districts.

Much of that increase was linked to the growth of LISA Academy’s Springdale campus, where enrollment grew nearly 20% from last year, from 290 to 347 students. Another charter school, Premier High School, opened this fall with 50 students in Springdale.

Charter enrollments represent 4.4% of all public school enrollments in Benton and Washington counties, up from 1.9% eight years ago.

Declining figures

Only two other school districts in northwest Arkansas, besides Springdale, have lost students from a year ago: Greenland and West Fork both saw declines of around 4%.

Both districts have seen long periods of declining enrollment, but this has been particularly difficult for West Fork, which has seen enrollments drop nearly 27% in the past 10 years. West Fork had 870 students as of October 1.

Small classes have replaced large graduating classes in recent years. The average number of students per grade level for grades 9 to 12 in West Fork is 77; for K-8 levels, the average is 62.

There are now 100 homeschooled students in the West Fork District, a record for the district, according to Superintendent John Karnes. He hopes to get some of those students back when the covid-19 pandemic subsides.

Karnes is also optimistic that a recent infrastructure development will revive the city’s development. Last year, the town of West Fork connected to the Fayetteville sewer system, increasing the town’s housing and business capacity. This should lead to more children moving into the district, he said.

Karnes calls West Fork “Northwest Arkansas’ best-kept secret” for where to build, especially with its easy access to Interstate 49.

“You can be anywhere in Northwest Arkansas in a matter of minutes,” he said.

The Arkansas code annotated 6-13-1603 requires districts that had fewer than 350 students in the previous two years to consolidate or be annexed to another district, unless the board of education of the The state does not grant a waiver. This happened locally in 2004, when the Winslow School District was annexed by the District of Greenland.

Learn at home

The number of homeschooled students in the state which swelled by the thousands last year has plummeted, but it is still above pre-pandemic totals.

As of Nov. 17, home school enrollment was 26,467, said Kimberly Mundell, spokesperson for the Arkansas Elementary and Secondary Education Division.

That compares to 26,961 at the same time last year, Mundell said.

However, the preliminary number of home schools for the entire 2020-21 school year was much higher at 30,262 – up 7,381 students from the 22,461 home students in the 2019 school year. -2020 and the 22,104 home students in 2018-19.

“We are not back to where we were before covid-19,” Arkansas Assistant Commissioner of Education Ivy Pfeffer said of the counts in the 261 traditional and charter school systems. ‘State. Home school numbers provide a good indication of where public school alumni are located, she said.

“You hear in a lot of other states that they’ve lost touch with a significant number of students,” Pfeffer said. “I think for us – in terms of the total number – we know where they are because we’ve seen this increase in the number of home schools.”

Home schools are not public schools. Home school students are those whose parents or guardians have chosen to take full responsibility for the education of their children, including the financial cost of the curriculum. Parents who home school must register with the state.

Principal Ashley Williams visits kindergarten students on November 17 at Evening Star Elementary School in Bentonville. The school has seen a 16 percent increase in enrollment this semester compared to last fall. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / Flip Putthoff

Total number of registrations

The number of students enrolled in public schools in Benton and Washington counties has increased by 8% since 2015. Here are the totals by year, as recorded each October 1:

Year * Registration

2015 * 82 584

2016 * 84 328

2017 * 85 943

2018 * 87 360

2019 * 88 867

2020 * 87 973

2021 * 89,450

Source: Arkansas Department of Education


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