January 14, 2014 Updated: January 15, 2014 at 7:27 am
Enrollment trends in public schools are staying the course, both locally and statewide, according to official figures the Colorado Department of Education released Tuesday.
The number of preschool through 12th-grade students grew for the 24th consecutive year statewide, the CDE reports from its annual fall pupil count.
The increase of 13,438 students over 2012-2013 brings this academic year's total to 876,999 public school students in Colorado.
Enrollment patterns in El Paso and Teller counties also remain unchanged. School districts that have been gaining students in recent years are continuing to do so, while those that have been getting smaller are still seeing declines.
Falcon School District 49 posted the biggest enrollment jump statewide, among districts with more than 100 students, pushing it for the first time to the "Top 15" list of the largest school districts in Colorado. With 18,880 students, a 22 percent hike, D-49 now ranks as the state's 14th largest district.
The growth is attributed primarily to D-49 transferring into its jurisdiction the state's largest multi-district online charter school, GOAL Academy, said spokeswoman Stephanie Wurtz. That addition in the fall brought 3,149 students who were previously part of the state-sponsored Charter School Institute.
Removing those students shows student growth of 1.6 percent, or 244 students, which Wurtz said is a more relevant year-over-year comparison.
The district also won't get the state funding boost it would have if the online charter school students had been traditional students, she added. Per-pupil revenue for GOAL Academy students is passed through the district, directly to the charter school, as is the case for other district-sponsored charter schools.
Two other local districts are among the state's 15 largest. Colorado Springs School District 11, covering the central portion of the city, fell from ninth last year to 10th this year. Enrollment decreased by 589 students to 28,404. In 1999, D-11 was the state's fifth largest district with 31,586 students.
Academy School District 20, in northern Colorado Springs, continues to steadily march forward and is the state's 11th largest, the same standing as 2012-2013. This year's 24,481 students is 508 more than last year. D-20 has now pulled within 4,000 students of surpassing D-11 as the region's largest school district.
Statewide, urban and suburban districts tend to be expanding and rural districts contracting. The Pikes Peak region is bucking that trend. Small rural districts such as Miami/Yoder 60 JT and Hanover School District 28 have rebounded this year with more students, while D-11 keeps sliding.
There are several reasons, said Glenn Gustafson, D-11's deputy superintendent and chief financial officer. Choice is one. D-11 has 19 public charter schools within its boundaries, along with several private religious schools and about 1,000 home school students.
A low number of homeowners in D-11 who have children in school - fewer than 20 percent - and no new home construction also have negatively impacted enrollment.
While a demographic study the district commissioned in 1999 predicted a 1-2 percent annual decrease for a decade or more, it did not take into account charter schools, Gustafson said.
However, "I think we're close to bottoming out and then stabilizing," he said. "We're not going to have a huge bounce back, though, without something like Denver's LoDo or the Stapleton Airport re-development."
Also among the statistics, Harrison School District 2 has surpassed Hanover School District 28 as having the most impoverished students. Seventy-one percent of Harrison's 11,179 students are eligible for free and reduced lunches. Hanover, one of El Paso County's smallest districts, is at 69 percent, followed by Ellicott School District 22, another rural district, at 67 percent.