State reports decline in K-12 student enrollment for 2020-21 school year; Iron County shows growth

ST. GEORGE — A recent Utah State Board of Education report shows that K-12 enrollment in the state has experienced a significant decrease resulting from a larger migration than previous years of students transferring to homeschool or private school. In Southern Utah, Washington County appears to be reflecting this decrease, while Iron County enrollment has increased.

Steven Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District, told St. George News that while they have seen a decrease in students enrolled for in-person classes from the previous year, online enrollments have gone up.

“We are down 437 students in our schools attending traditional classes,” he said. “The plus side is we’re way up on online, but we don’t know how many because many of our online students are only taking a couple of classes, and so they’re not considered full-time.”

On an average year, the district would see an increase of about 1,000 students, Dunham said, adding that while district officials are still uncertain of what has caused this year’s decrease, the situation could be worse if it weren’t for people moving into the county and most likely coming to enroll in brick and mortar schools.

“We know we’ve had a lot of people who have specifically contacted us with interest in moving to our community because of that – and that is from the Wasatch Front. That is from out of state as well,” he said. “We would be down at a higher rate if those weren’t moving in.”

Steven Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District, calls out the names of the 2019-2020 retirees, St. George, Utah, Sept. 8, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Dunham said there are currently less than 20 cases of COVID-19 in the district and less than 100 people quarantined, which is far less compared to other areas and is something that is likely attractive to people living in areas with higher numbers.

In terms of the economy and the housing market, Executive Officer of the Southern Utah Home Builders Association Mari Krashowetz said in an email to St. George News that the local building industry had a minor setback in March when the pandemic was first impacting the local area.

During this time, builders experienced some contract cancelations with potential homeowners because there was uncertainty in the market.

“Since that time, we have seen a significant increase with new home starts in the area. Local building permits year-to-date in Washington County have been the highest in over ten years,” she said, adding that single-family permits so far this year are at 2,001, compared to same time last year of 1,885. This represents an approximate 6% increase.

In order to keep up with the rapid pace of construction, the district has also been looking ahead to redefine boundaries and build more schools.

South Mesa Elementary School opened in August, and construction for Desert Canyons Elementary and a CT High School is estimated to be completed within the next two years.

Iron County School District

A little farther north, Iron County School District is reporting an increase in enrollment. As of Friday, there were 10,620 students enrolled compared to 9,537 last year.

In this 2016 file photo, Iron County School District Superintendent Shannon Dulaney discusses the launching of the new Utah Aerospace Pathways Program in Cedar City, Utah, April 26, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George / Cedar City News

Shannon Dulaney, superintendent for the district, said in an email to St. George News they believe current enrollment numbers to be fairly stable.

Of their total enrollment, currently there are approximately 1,700 K-12 students enrolled in online programs.

Some of these students reside in Iron County; however, many of them are living in other counties. These students participate in both Iron District teacher supported services and third-party online curriculum/teacher supported programs.

“We expect that as COVID circumstances evolve, hopefully for the better, that many of our parents will choose to send their students back to in-person instruction at our schools,” Dulaney said. “There will also be some that discover online and remote learning works well for their students and will choose to continue with this option. Our plan is to continue to support online learning moving forward.”

Keeping students learning and supporting families and educators as they provide needed educational services and options will continue to be the district’s primary goal, she said.

“It is difficult to predict whether current trends in enrollment will change or continue as they are,” she said. “With the predicted growth in our county, as well as the new home building that is happening etc., we may see a possible increase in student enrollment: how significant that increase will be is yet to be seen.”

State report

According to the state report, while charter schools have seen an increase in enrollment of 1,688, districts have seen a total decrease of 3,844 students statewide. An estimate of new enrollments, due to migration and other factors, is also showing a significant downward trend, an estimated 20% decrease in a single year.

Chart shows spike in students transitioning to home school, location and date unspecified | Image courtesy of Utah State Board of Education, St. George News

Kindergarten enrollment, which has not experienced significant growth in recent years, has shown a drop of 4.7% this year, which is much larger than any previous year, according to the report.

Students who were expected to return to school but chose instead to transition to home schooling saw a sharp spike. In the 2020 school year, there were 914 students who transitioned to home schooling. For the 2021 school year, this number has jumped to 2,754.

The most significant change, however, was seen in enrollment in online schooling and virtual learning in programs provided by the school districts.  The state is currently reporting 24,098  students in these programs, which represents a 63% increase in a single year.

The report also refers to statute 53F-2-207, a board action made in May 2019 that protects school districts from being penalized for an excessive loss in student enrollment caused by uncontrollable factors.

The stated purpose of the Utah State Board of Education report is to identify trends and what’s potentially propelling these changes. The official count will not be released until Oct. 1.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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