Colorado reports first student enrollment drop in more than 30 years
Eagle County Schools saw its enrollment drop, too, but no cuts expected in near-term
Preliminary data released by the Colorado Department of Education showed a 3.3% decline in student enrollment statewide — marking the first decline in student enrollment in the state since 1988.
With student counts taken around the state in October and now in a formal certification process expected to conclude in mid-January, Colorado saw total statewide enrollment of 883,281 students, 29,942 fewer students than in 2019.
The largest decreases were reported in preschools, in kindergartens and in elementary school grades.
Compared to 2019, the state education department also reported a doubling in number of students being home schooled, at 15,773; and a 44% increase in the number of students registered in online educational programs, at 32,231.
The enrollment declines — which were significantly higher than the statewide average in some areas — are expected to have many school districts on edge, as state education funding is tied to student counts.
Eagle County Schools saw a year-over-year decrease of 113 students in the October count — a decline of about 1.6% — according to the state data.
Eagle County Schools spokesman Daniel Dougherty said the enrollment decline is less than the district forecast. Enrollment declines are also something the district has accounted for in its budgeting processes, so no cuts or adjustments are expected in the short-term for the district, which has about 6,500 students.
“So we’re fortunate in we were much lower than our projected decrease, and also below the state average,” Dougherty said.
The school district recently consolidated June Creek Elementary students with other elementary schools in Avon and Edwards, to adjust for declining enrollments in those areas. Going into this school year, the district asked departments to trim budgets, Dougherty said, and also changed some policies so it could spend more of its funding reserves than it normally would.
Funding through the CARES Act and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund also helped the district through this unprecedented school year.
“We really did tighten up,” Dougherty said. “We took a fine pencil to our budgets and each department was required to cut 20% out of their budget for this school year.”
What is a concern are demographic projections showing the district’s enrollment in a declining pattern going forward.
“If we imagine ourselves in the future, when the vaccines take hold and we turn the corner of the pandemic, we don’t know if that will attract people back to the community, and we’ll see our population go up, or if it will free people up to seek lower cost housing or better employment elsewhere,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty said the district is also hopeful that Gov. Jared Polis’ preliminary budget proposes holding school funding steady for the next school year.
“We are optimistic about that, but it does have to go through the legislative session, when cuts usually happen. So we’re in a holding pattern until that happens, when we’ll know what the next school year looks like,” he said.
State Rep. Dylan Roberts said legislators are paying close attention to the student counts, but also hoping to see a rebound back to normal school enrollment levels as vaccines are deployed and the coronavirus pandemic winds down.
“We got our latest (revenue) forecast today and it looks like the state is doing better than expected financially. Not great, but better than expected. And I think there is a strong desire to make sure we don’t make any further cuts to education funding,” Roberts said Friday.
“We don’t need to pass a budget until June 30, so a lot could happen between now and then, but education funding seems to be a priority for both sides of the aisle,” Roberts said.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at email@example.com.
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