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Loss of homeless students leads to enrollment decrease in one Colorado Springs-area school district

January 9, 2018 Updated: January 10, 2018 at 8:56 am
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Graduation exercises for Manitou Springs High School were held Sunday May 22, 2016 at Richardson Football Field. Photo by Jeff Kearney.

Manitou Springs School District 14 has recorded the largest drop in student enrollment among the Pikes Peak region's 17 public school districts this academic year - a decline attributed to a change in city policy that restricts the amount of time homeless people can live in motels.

Manitou Springs schools have 88 fewer students this school year, for a total of 1,400. That's a 6.29 percent decrease over 2016-2017 and more than 100 students less than in 2011-2012, according to official enrollment numbers released Tuesday by the Colorado Department of Education.

Assistant Superintendent Tim Miller said district leaders anticipated this year's decline, after the city of Manitou Springs began enforcing a 30-day limit on residential occupancy in city motels, in which up to 65 students have lived in previous years.

Miller also cites as a factor road construction that began last March and will continue through this year on a 1-mile stretch of Manitou Avenue where such motels are located.

"This causes major delays every day and has effectively prevented homeless families from living in these motels for any length of time," he said.

D-14 also weathered enrollment losses following the Waldo Canyon fire in the summer of 2012 and subsequent flooding of Ute Pass and Manitou Springs in 2013.

Click here to see the entire data set from the state

Although this year's drop is significant enough to be noted by the state education department in its enrollment compilation of the state's 178 school districts, Miller said D-14's budget will not be significantly impacted due to the allowance for "declining enrollment averaging."

Under the state's school finance laws, districts with declining enrollment can base pupil count on an average of up to four prior years' counts, along with the current year, to soften the impact.

Classroom headcounts are conducted every October as a calculator in the state's per-pupil funding formula.

The student population has increased statewide for the past 29 years, although the growth spurt seems to be slowing. This year's pupil count of 910,280 preschoolers through 12th graders is an increase of 5,261 students over last year - the smallest since 1989-1990.

Nearly one-third of all students are Hispanic or Latino, which represent the fastest-growing student group.

Other statewide trends: English Language Learners decreased by nearly 1,000 students to comprise 14.1 percent of all students; online education continues to grow and represents 2.2 percent of all students; and fewer students are eligible for free and reduced priced meals and constitute 41.7 percent of enrollment.

Also of note locally is that Woodland Park School District RE-2 gained students, following at least a decade of declining enrollment. The district has 22 more students than last year, for a total of 2,502, an .88 percent increase.

Although district officials can only speculate as to why enrollment has nudged upward, spokeswoman Stacy Schubloom said the district has become flexible to accommodate all types of learners, including online students and homeschoolers.

Also, there seems to be a renewed vibrancy in the community that is attracting more residents, Schubloom said, mentioning the redesign of the city park, the October opening of a new aquatic center and a spotlight on the performing arts.

A citywide sales tax increase to benefit the school district that voters approved in April 2016 also has "allowed us to meet some of our projected budget items that we wouldn't have been able to do otherwise," she said.

Colorado Springs School District 11, in central Colorado Springs, remains the region's largest with 27,427 students, a loss of 484 students over last school year and down more than 2,000 pupils since 2007, when enrollment was 29,518. Even though D-11 recorded the second-largest enrollment drop in the state this year, next to Aurora Public Schools, it's still the state's 10th largest district.

Academy School District 20, the area's second-largest district, covering the northern section of the city, grew by 240 students for a total of 25,831. It's now the state's 11th largest.

Falcon School District 49, to the east. added 614 students for an enrollment of 21,448. It's one of four districts statewide that grew by more than 500 students and ranks as the state's 14th largest district.

Edison School District 54JT in Yoder remains the smallest district in the region with 228 students. But it's grown by almost 20 percent over the past five years, largely due to students attaining the highest level of academic performance on the state's rating system.

To see the entire data set, go to cde.state.co.us/cdereval/pupilcurrent.

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