Lawrence private schools not likely the reason for recent drop in public school enrollment

photo by: Nick Krug

The Lawrence school district offices are pictured at 110 McDonald Drive in this file photo from May 2017.

Although private schools in Lawrence have seen enrollment grow at a steady pace in recent years, they do not appear to be the culprit for the drop in enrollment at Lawrence public schools for the 2019-2020 school year.

During a headcount in September, the school district found a decrease of 182 students across the district. The overall enrollment dropped from 11,791 students to 11,609 students, which is about a 1.5% decrease.

While informing the Lawrence school board with an update on how the school district’s enrollment would affect its state funding next year, Kathy Johnson, executive director of finance, in November said the kindergarten class that enrolled this year was “much, much lower” than anticipated. The elementary level alone saw a drop of nearly 200 students, according to the district’s reported enrollment count.

“I know … that Lawrence seems to be growing, but it doesn’t seem to be growing a lot of students,” Johnson said in November.

Because of the drop, Johnson said she knows the school district is investigating what may have caused it, including whether private schools were a factor.

But with most of the private schools recently reporting their enrollment levels for the current school year to the Journal-World, it appears the education systems in Lawrence remained mostly flat across the board.

Bishop Seabury Academy, an Episcopal middle and high school, reported a drop of a single student this year compared to last year. Prairie Moon Waldorf School, which offers kindergarten through eighth grade, saw a drop of 22 students.

Conversely, Veritas Christian School, which offers grades K-12, saw a moderate enrollment increase of seven students, and St. John Catholic School, a K-8 school, saw a fairly large increase of 30 students.

Corpus Christi Catholic School and Raintree Montessori School, which both serve K-8, did not respond to the Journal-World’s request for enrollment numbers.

Those enrollment numbers show a net increase of just 14 students in those schools from last year to this year. Although Veritas and St. John did increase enrollment, they alone do not explain the drop of more than 180 students in the local public school system that provides education to a consistently growing community.

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Lawrence has grown steadily since 2010. The bureau estimates that the city’s population had reached a little more than 97,000 people in 2018, which is about 10,000 more people than the population count in the 2010 census.

Superintendent Anthony Lewis told the Journal-World in October that the school district would need to do some research to identify what caused the drop. But as of Thursday, the district still did not know what factors may have led to the decline in enrollment.

“We do not have any definitive answers for you except that we know from past experience that enrollment in Lawrence Public Schools is fluid,” Julie Boyle, district spokeswoman, told the Journal-World.

Enrollment is important to the school district because it helps determine the amount of funding it receives from the state government for the following year.

As part of the funding process, a state audit will review the school district’s enrollment again, which will also define the number of students in the district that account for certain funding “weightings.” The weightings, which are set by the state’s education funding formula, offer additional funding for certain students, such as those who have special education needs.

Johnson told the school board that the state’s enrollment audit will happen sometime between December and April, but it won’t be finalized until June.

If the audit confirms the decrease in enrollment, the school district would expect to see a decrease in state funding as well. But the state offers alternative options to minimize the loss of funding.

One of those options includes using the audited enrollment number from the year prior, which for the school district would be the enrollment of the 2018-2019 school year. That would allow the district to receive at least the same amount of state funding that’s based on overall enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year.

Johnson told the school board that is likely the route the school district will go, but that could change before the budget is finalized in July.

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