Enrollment at Indianapolis Public Schools is down nearly 4 percent compared to last fall and the lowest since 2016–17, according to an update Thursday from district leaders.
The decline could create a $15 million shortfall based on the 2020-21 district budget that anticipated a much higher enrollment this fall than in the past several years. This all adds to the uncertainty for other district support from the federal, state, and county also facing uncertain revenue due to the pandemic.
Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said it’s still unclear how much the pandemic played into the enrollment decline but she expects further analysis will show fewer young students, particularly kindergarteners, did not enroll. A district analysis should be released next month.
“When I looked at the enrollment by grade level, the pattern I noticed actually in our high schools is we've remained and even gone up, ticked up some in our secondary grades,” Johnson said. “Where we've seen more and more of the declines in our elementary grades … but so you all know, kinders is where we saw those numbers drop off more substantial.”
The Indiana Department of Education is expected to release official statewide enrollment data for the fall next week.
IPS reported a total enrollment of 31,171 for students in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. That is a 3.7 percent decline from last fall’s 32,357 enrollment count.
But questions were raised during Thursday’s school board meeting whether this year’s enrollment should be compared to last fall’s 32,357 count. That enrollment included three former IPS schools under state takeover status and operated by a private company.
Sometimes those schools’ enrollment was included in IPS data from the state, and sometimes not, said Weston Young, chief financial officer.
Johnson said that if the comparison was made without the three schools, fall 2020 enrollment would be "flat" compared to last year, or about 50 students more.
Details within the student count show the growing presence of innovation schools -- district schools operated by charter organizations and nonprofit school managers.
According to Thursday's presentation, the number of students at traditional district schools dropped by 2,389 students to 19,565, or nearly 63 percent of IPS students. This includes neighborhood and magnet schools.
Student enrollment at innovation schools increased by 2,610 students to 11,606, or 37 percent of IPS students. Just five years ago, innovation enrollment made up 4.5 percent of students.
Young, the chief financial officer, said the large increase compared to last year was due to former district-managed schools transitioning to innovation status, such as Louis B. Russell Jr. School 48, and schools formerly under the control of a state-mandated private company also becoming part of the innovation network.
Thomas Carr Howe and Emmerich Manual high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School were approved for takeover by the state in 2011 and operated by a private company. The takeover ended in June. State leaders decided to not allow the private company to continue running the schools and instead returned control to IPS.
The IPS board approved innovation agreements with Christel House Indianapolis to operate Manual High School and Adelante Schools to manage Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School starting this academic year.
IPS closed Howe in the summer. It’s still unclear how many of its students remained in the IPS district.