Wichita officials expect higher numbers as students are counted

Wichita school officials expect to see the district’s enrollment rise when official numbers are released next week.

Students statewide were counted Thursday as part of an official head count conducted each year on Sept. 20. The number of students enrolled is used to determine each district’s per-student state funding for the school year.

Wichita’s enrollment last year was 50,103, up slightly from the previous year’s 50,033 and the highest since 1975. It is the state’s largest school district.

“I’m guessing we’ll see an increase at the elementary level,” Superintendent John Allison said this week. “It’s hard to say how much until we get the actual numbers.”

Because the official count determines the district’s funding – at least $3,838 for every full-time student – some schools sent reminders to parents or offered incentives to make sure students came to school.

At Gordon Parks Academy, kids and teachers wore fake mustaches and received mustache decals to go along with the theme “We MUSTACHE you to be here on Sept. 20.” The day was part of an overall Spirit Week for the K-8 school near 25th and Grove.

The effort was “just something fun to encourage good attendance – not just today, but every day,” said Jaime Hutchinson, principal at Gordon Parks.

To be clear: Thursday wasn’t an all-or-nothing count, said Craig Neuenswander, director of school finance for the Kansas Department of Education. Districts can still count students who were absent Thursday if the student enrolled and attended classes at least once before Thursday and attends again before Oct. 4, he said.

Thursday’s official head count was the first part of a week-long accounting audit that determines what education officials call “weighted enrollment.”

Besides base per-pupil state aid, Neuenswander said, districts get additional funding for students who live more than 21/2 miles from school, students in at-risk preschool programs, vocational students and those who receive special-education or bilingual services.

Also, the state counts kindergarten students as one-half of a full-time student unless they receive special-education services.

“It’s kind of a complex formula,” he said, “and it takes a long time to put all those numbers together.”

Districts must submit their reports to Topeka by Oct. 10.