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Last Friday, the Iowa Department of Education released certified enrollment numbers for public school districts, accredited nonpublic schools and certified participation in the Students First Education Savings Account (ESA) program for the 2023-24 school year.
Recorded on the first day of October every year, certified enrollment count differs slightly from the actual headcount of students enrolled, and determines funding for the next fiscal year. Fall 2023 numbers will be used to determine public school funding for the 2024-25 school year.
A review of the Iowa Department of Education (DOE) data indicates enrollment in most south central Iowa school districts remain relatively flat or decreasing. Certified enrollment for Mount Ayr Community Schools remained steady at 598.4 students (fractional numbers result from various weighting formulas used by the DOE to determine state aid to schools).
Chariton, Lenox and Bedford were the only three southern Iowa districts that saw an increase in enrollment year-over-year.
Although Diagonal appears to have a sizable decrease, they also experienced one of their larger enrollment years in 2022-2023. A similar dip was experienced in the fall of 2014, when certified enrollment was 89, dropping from 93 in 2013, and a high of 112 students in 2012. Historical data indicates certified enrollment in Diagonal typically hovers close to 100.
More troubling, Corning, Creston, East Union, Indianola, I-35, and Martensdale-St. Marys are all experiencing a decreasing enrollment trend. At $7,598 per student in state funding for 23-24, any decrease in enrollment negatively impacts school district budgets.
Across the state, certified enrollment at public school districts was down approximately one-half percent (0.57%) from last year, but is expected to continue declining according to state enrollment projections.
Meanwhile, certified enrollment at accredited private schools in Iowa increased 7.4%, from 33,692 last year to 36,195 in the fall of 2023. Approximately 33.7% of the 16,757 student participants who used an ESA at an Iowa accredited private school for the 2023-24 school year did not previously attend a private school.
While 21% of the student ESA participants (3,513) were entering kindergarten students, roughly 12.7% of the student ESA participants (2,135) previously attended a public school.
The per pupil funding that could have gone to public school districts, was instead distributed to eligible families for tuition, fees, and other qualified expenses at accredited private schools as specified in the Students First Act. At $7,598 per student in 23-24, the program cost the state over $127 million to send students to private schools in the first year.