Education

Why did Wichita district enrollment slip this year?

Enrollment at Wichita schools is down 572 students from last year – about 1 percent – after several programs were eliminated or consolidated, officials said.
Enrollment at Wichita schools is down 572 students from last year – about 1 percent – after several programs were eliminated or consolidated, officials said. File photo

Enrollment at Wichita schools is down 572 students from last year – about 1 percent – after several programs were eliminated or consolidated, officials said.

The district’s overall enrollment – 50,561 – is the lowest since 2012 and marks the second consecutive year the number has declined.

And this fall, for the first time, the overall number of Hispanic students in Wichita schools surpassed the number of non-Hispanic white students.

Superintendent John Allison said much of the enrollment decline is related to cost-cutting measures, including the denial of out-of-district students and the consolidation of alternative high school programs.

“Our principals, as out-of-district requests came in, had to look very carefully at space available … and in most cases, because of our continued creeping class size, denied those,” Allison said.

Each year in September, students statewide are counted for their school’s official enrollments. With the state’s block-grant school funding system, funding is frozen based on 2014-15 enrollment numbers, but districts continue to count the number of students to target resources to schools and to help manage class sizes.

Wichita superintendent John Allison reacts to oral arguments presented at the Kansas Supreme Court on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016.

Allison said the district used to accept between 200 and 300 out-of-district students each year, based on available space. The switch two years ago to block grant school funding means Wichita no longer receives funds to support students from neighboring districts, so administrators deny the majority of those requests, he said.

As a cost-cutting measure, the district restructured its adult learning centers at Towne East, Towne West and Chester I. Lewis Academic Learning Center into one program, prompting a reduction of 385 students.

In addition, after the district closed Metro-Meridian Alternative High School and consolidated alternative programs at Lewis, the number of students enrolled in the alternative program decreased by more than half, from 237 to 113.

Allison pointed to some upswings in enrollment this year, including at the new Southeast High School, at 127th Street East and Pawnee, which increased by 155 students.

When Southeast High students start school, they will be at a new $68 million building at 127th Street East and Pawnee, the first new comprehensive high school to open in Wichita in nearly four decades. (August 2016)

Wichita’s largest high school still is East High, with 2,264 students. The largest drop was at West High, which is down 112 students this year.

Jardine Middle School, in Wichita’s Planeview neighborhood, had the largest enrollment bump among middle schools, up 52 students over last year. Enrollment at Truesdell Middle School, near Pawnee and Seneca, continues to climb, reaching 1,061 students.

Among elementary schools, Enterprise Elementary, near I-235 and Seneca, recorded the largest increase, up 55 students over last year. Other Wichita elementaries that increased by 30 students or more this year were Adams, Gammon, L’Ouverture and Mueller.

The largest decline among elementary schools was at White Elementary, near I-35 and Hydraulic, which is down 107 students from last year.

Wichita schools released new demographic information Monday as well. This year, the district’s overall student body is 34 percent Hispanic, 33 percent white, 19 percent African-American, 8 percent multiracial, 4 percent Asian and 1 percent Native American.

“As we often say, the world walks in our hallways, and that’s once again evident by our enrollment numbers,” Allison said.

Members of the nonprofit mentoring group Real Men Real Heroes formed welcome lines outside Spaght Elementary and Gordon Parks Academy on Wednesday morning, the first day of school for Wichita students. (Suzanne Tobias/The Wichita Eagle/Aug. 24, 20

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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