Wyoming public schools lost more than 700 students in the past year, the first drop in enrollment in more than a decade, according to data from the state Department of Education.
The data, collected in early October, showed a statewide loss that amounts to less than 1 percent of Wyoming’s student population. Enrollment fell from 94,002 to 93,261.
Only 18 of the state’s 48 school districts experienced growth, the report says, including in the northwest and southeast portions of the state and districts along the Interstate 25 corridor.
State Department of Education spokeswoman Kari Eakins stressed that the department is not drawing conclusions or correlations between economic factors, like the recent energy downturn, and districts that saw decreased enrollment. The report does say that the areas that rely on energy production, like Campbell County, saw more decreases.
Teton County School District No. 1 gained 65 students compared with last October, an increase of about 2 percent. The district has had overcrowding problems, officials have said. Money has been appropriated from the state’s rainy day fund to pay for a new elementary school in the district.
Overcrowding is not an issue in Campbell County. Compared with the same period last year, Campbell County School District No. 1 lost more than 400 students, according to the data. Last month, Don Dihle, the district’s business manager, directly tied declining enrollment to jobs lost in the county because of the energy downturn.
Though it was the district hit heaviest in terms of number of students lost, the district’s loss translates to about 5 percent. Fremont County School District No. 38 lost 39 students compared to 2015, a loss of around 9 percent of its enrollment. When students are worth about $15,000 in state funding, Eakins said, that’s significant.
Converse County School District No. 2 lost 43 students, or 7 percent. Sublette No. 9 lost 45, also about 7 percent.
Meanwhile, Fremont County School District No. 1 gained 83 students, a growth of about 5 percent over last year, according to department data.
The average daily attendance at a school is critical to calculating the amount of money each district is guaranteed from the state. On average, a student in Wyoming is worth about $15,000 to his or her district.
In Campbell County, the enrollment loss equals $5.5 million less in state funding over the next three years, officials have said.
Natrona County School District has lost about 70 students compared with the same period last year. Officials have said that the true loss of students in Casper may be unclear because of past booms: For years, elementary enrollment was growing by more than 150 students annually. Because of that strong growth, the district is now seeing steady growth in high school enrollment.
But over the past two years, the district has lost about 200 elementary students, officials have said. So while the October snapshot shows a modest decline, the elementary trend line is concerning. Indeed, the data show that while the district gained 45 fourth-graders, it lost a combined 218 students in first, second, third and fifth grade over the past year. It gained 11 kindergartners.
Eakins said that typically this report would be released around February. The department’s data team needs time to compile all of the data and check it. But the Legislature requested the data early so its members could get a look at the enrollment trends before the legislative session starts on Jan. 10, Eakins said.