Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
A year after the COVID-19 pandemic dropped enrollment numbers for most schools, Washington County superintendents say their districts haven’t bounced back as much as they’d hoped.
Statewide, Iowa’s 327 school districts saw an increase of over 1,470 students since last school year, but was not evenly distributed according to a Department of Education news release.
“Certified enrollment increased at 169 school districts representing 52 percent of all public school districts in the state,” the department said. “Pre-K, ninth grade and kindergarten had the largest increases at 2,019, 1,102 and 916 students, respectively.”
The numbers have high stakes for school districts, which receive over $7,000 from the state per student.
Washington enrollment rises, but barely
Washington was the only school district in the county to see an increase in certified enrollment. That increase was minor, however, at only 1.7 students.
“It is a little bit lower than we had hoped for,” Superintendent Willie Stone said. “The year before we’d had a pretty big loss … and we really thought more would come back than what did. It’s good that we’re up, but we were planning on being up a little bit more than that.”
While the district hopes to eventually recover from its nearly 90-student drop last school year, Stone said financial plans had to assume those students would not return.
“We’ll plan that they don’t come back so that we’re happily surprised when they do, financially,” he said. “I don’t want that to be misconstrued that we don’t want them, it’s just that everything about certified enrollment helps us to plan our budget moving forward. If those kids come back, great, we’ll be able to educate them, but then we’ll also get the funding for them.”
Mid-Prairie numbers fall, but has reason for optimism
Mid-Prairie’s certified enrollment dropped by 16.7 from the previous year’s report. While that’s a several thousand dollar difference for the district, Superintendent Mark Schneider said he was unconcerned.
“Obviously a school district never wants to lose any students, but as a school superintendent, what I’m more concerned with … is the trend line,” Superintendent Mark Schneider said. “Even in trends where things are going up, there may be a year or two where it dips down … that just depends on how many seniors you graduate versus how many kindergartners you have coming in.”
Mid-Prairie has historically healthy enrollment trends despite this year’s decline. In the 2020-21 school year, it was the only district in the county not to plummet in number of students served, instead increasing the number by 23 kids.
“If this were to continue for two or three more years, then yes it would be a trend I was concerned about,” Schneider said. “It’s not a big concern right now … there are a lot of factors that go into increased enrollment and decreased enrollment, and that’s why it’s best to look at it over a five-year period.”
Highland braces budget for 21-student drop
Highland schools saw the county’s biggest drop in certified enrollment with the most recent report, with the number declining by 21 students.
“The money coming from the state’s going to be a little bit less than last year, and that makes it tough on budgets,” Superintendent Ken Crawford said.
Crawford said much of that change was a result of COVID-19.
“We’re still short a lot of kids in the state of Iowa that were here two years ago,” he said. “I think that COVID really took a hit on people moving and going places, living with grandparents, looking for jobs, and if they don’t come back, that’s kind of what happens.”
That’s not to say the continued decline after last school year was expected.
“We had several kids move into the district and last spring we thought we’d be up 10 or 12 kids because we weren’t losing anybody,” Crawford said. “That really surprised us when the final numbers were counted.”
Crawford said he hoped to see state support in light of the trends.
“I know the state of Iowa is losing kids from its public schools, and I’m worried about that rebound of kids coming back,” he said. “In the media and in Des Moines schools get a bad rap sometimes, and I don’t think that’s fair. We’re doing a great job of educating kids and giving kids great opportunities at all levels.”