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Enrollment drops at Clark County schools for 5th straight year

Updated November 7, 2022 - 5:42 pm

The Clark County School District has 506 fewer students this fall than last fall — the fifth consecutive year with an enrollment drop.

School district officials cite factors such as an earlier kindergarten cutoff date and more education options in the Las Vegas Valley due to five new public charter schools opening in August.

The nation’s fifth-largest school district had 304,276 students as of an Oct. 3 official enrollment tally known as “count day” or “validation day.” That compares with 304,782 on Oct. 1 last year.

This year’s figure is just 557 students under what the district originally projected, which is less than two-tenths of a percent, said Rick Baldwin, director of comprehensive planning.

“We’re very pleased with that,” he said.

The school district is starting now on enrollment projections for next school year — a process that begins in November each year, Baldwin said. Those must be completed and sent to the district’s budget team in December.

The enrollment drop comes amid a teacher shortage and large class sizes, new security upgrades, a drop in standardized test scores during the pandemic and the School Board’s decision last year to fire and then rehire Superintendent Jesus Jara.

Each year, enrollment from Oct. 1 — or the following Monday, if it falls on a weekend — is reported to the Nevada Department of Education. The school district released its data to the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday.

The state’s “validation day” is conducted to provide the official demographics for the school year, said Greg Manzi, an assistant superintendent for the Clark County School District.

Within the school district, a “count day” dictates how much money the district allocates to schools, which have autonomy under the state’s reorganization law for their budgets, he said.

Some school district employees also are involuntarily transferred to another site — known as “surplus” — based on student enrollment numbers. This fall, 71 teachers and 16 support professionals were affected.

Fewer kindergartners

One factor behind this fall’s enrollment drop: a new kindergarten cutoff age — a change that went into effect for the first time this school year.

Now, children must turn 5 by the first day of the school year — earlier than the previous Sept. 30 cutoff. The state law change is a result of a bill passed during the 2021 legislative session.

Baldwin said the district projected for the change, which led to about 2,600 fewer kindergartners.

For this school year only, though, kindergartners who didn’t meet the new cutoff but turned 5 by Sept. 30 could still enroll if they participated in a preschool program, according to the school district’s website.

Another factor behind student numbers this year: There’s added competition in Clark County education due to more charter schools opening or expanding, which drew students out of the school district.

A district spokesman said the school district is promoting its school choice options, including by holding a magnet program fair earlier this month.

The application process is open now for next school year for families who are interested in having their child attend a magnet school, or for a change of school assignment for those who want their child to attend a campus outside their assigned attendance zone.

Enrollment trends over time

The district gained more than 90,500 students from 2000 to 2017, reaching its peak of 321,648 students. But then it lost nearly 17,400 students between then and this year.

The largest drop during that time was 13,124 fewer students in fall 2020 compared with fall 2019. That came as the school district operated under 100 percent distance education for a year beginning in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was a much smaller drop of 327 students from fall 2020 to fall 2021.

A significant number of students withdrew from the school district during the pandemic because their families moved out of state, Manzi said, noting the economic impact of the pandemic was beyond the district’s control.

The state’s unemployment rate reached its highest level in April 2020 at 28.5 percent amid a closure order for “non-essential” businesses.

Other families sought options such as private schools that were offering in-person classes or homeschooling.

On a broader scale, the Great Recession — which led to a decline in birth rates nationwide — affected school district enrollment over a longer period of time.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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