Enrollment projections point to higher costs and achievement challenges

Enrollment projections point to higher costs and achievement challenges

KASB’s annual projection of Kansas school district enrollment for the next five years indicates more students will contribute to school funding costs. Over 90% of Kansas K-12 students continue to attend public schools, and changing demographics mean tougher challenges for student achievement.  Click for the full report from the KASB Research Department and the  KASB media release.  Here are four key points.

Kansas public school enrollment is growing

KASB projects total headcount enrollment will increase by nearly 25,000 students over the next five years, about 1% per year.  That may not sound like a big increase, but it is twice the growth of the last five years.  If all of these students were in one districts, it would be the fourth largest in the state (following Wichita, Olathe and Shawnee Mission).  A total enrollment of over 509,000 would also be the highest statewide public school enrollment since 1972, when the “baby boom” students began to decline.

Growing enrollment adds cost to the school finance system

At the current level of base state aid per pupil ($3,852), 25,000 students will require over $93 million in additional state aid just to keep up with headcount enrollment.  However, these students will also likely add other costs to the system.

Based on current economic statistics, about 10,000, or 40 percent, of these students will be eligible for free lunch, which would result increased at risk weighting.  Some of these students will enroll in career technical education courses, require bilingual or special education services, and transportation, all of which entail higher costs.

In fact, when all weighting adjustments are made, weighted enrollment is currently about 40 percent higher than headcount enrollment.  That means 25,000 additional students would likely result in approximately 35,000 weighted students, which would require about $135 million in five years, or $47 million more than headcount enrollment alone.  This would be the cost of simply keeping the base state aid per pupil at the same level, with no adjustment for inflation or expanded programs..

Public schools consistently enroll over 90% of Kansas students

Over 90% of the Kansas school-aged population has historically enrolled in public schools, which is higher than the national average of 86% to 88%.  Over the past five years, an average of 92.3% of resident live births enroll in Kansas public schools as first graders seven years later.  Also for the past five years, approximately 100% of students enrolled in public schools return for the next grade from first through eighth grade.

In ninth grade, public school enrollment jumps an average of nearly 6% each year; primarily because a number of students who attend nonpublic schools through eighth grade enroll in public high schools for ninth grade.

High school retention falls about 5% in both 10th and 11th grades, and 2% in 12th grade, largely because of students dropping out of school.  Approximately 15% of Kansas students fail to graduate high school by age 24, compared to a national average of about 20%.

The racial composition of Kansas students has changed dramatically, with a major impact on chances for student success.

Two decades ago, the Kansas public school population was 85% white, 8% black and less than 5% Hispanic.  White enrollment declined to 66% of the total enrollment for Kansas this year and is projected to be just 62% in 2019.  Black students enrollment has dropped slightly, and is projected to be less than 7% of the population in 2019.  Hispanic students have increased to nearly 18% of public school enrollment this year, and are projected to reach almost 22% in 2019.

This change alone helps explain the substantial increase in low income students eligible for free or reduced price meals; which rose from about one-third in 2011 to nearly half in 2013.  According to federal census data, Hispanic or Latino per capita income in Kansas is less than half of white income, and lower than any other racial or ethnic group.

The changing faces of Kansas students will make it more difficult for Kansas to improve or even maintain current levels of student achievement.  For example, 95 percent of middle and upper-income Kansas students graduate within four years, compared to just 76 percent of students eligible for free meals.  In both cases, Kansas far exceeds the national average.  (For details, see this report.)  In Kansas public schools, as in other states and private schools nationally and in Kansas, low income students, Hispanics and African Americans continue have lower educational achievement rates, although in most cases the gap has narrowed over the past decade.

The new enrollment projections are a reminder that state and local education and finance policies cannot be static; they must take into account the changing needs of Kansas students.