Lincoln area schools monitoring slowing enrollment growth amid recovery from pandemic drop

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) — Lincoln Public School serves 41,784 students from early childhood through twelfth grade each day. That’s just 37 more than last year, but new Superintendent Dr. Paul Gausman said he’s just excited about the positive growth.

“We actually projected as part of our budget that we would lose more than 100 students,” Gausman said.

Across the country, experts are reporting a standstill in enrollment in public schools. In part because of the pandemic and a related surge in homeschooling.

The Nebraska Department of Education shows that in the 2020-2021 school year, enrollment decreased by approximately 5,000 students statewide. LPS lost 584 students. In the two years since then, the state has recovered more than half of these students, and LPS has recovered about 20%.

But the pandemic is not the only factor.

“With the live birth rate, with the overcoming of the pandemic, with some of the immigration challenges in recent years,” Gausman said. “Many districts have plateaued in their enrollment.”

Lincoln’s live birth rate has fallen from 14.5 births per 1,000 people per year in 2010 to 11.5 in 2020, the latest available data from the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. While the city’s population is still growing, the average growth rate is about half what it was five years ago.

Gausman said this is important because enrollment numbers mean resources

“If you’re a declining enrollment district, you have to understand that going forward here it may take fewer people to serve the number of students we have as it’s a lower number and so you always have to pay attention to the challenge that may arise. ‘ said Gausman. “Now we are a sufficiently large district with almost 1000 employees. We have people coming and going every year because of family situations or retirement and things like that. So we can handle a plateau, we can handle a slight drop, we can handle a slight climb.”

10/11 NOW asked Gausman how an enrollment slowdown would affect the new schools the district has recently opened or will open in the future, including Ada Robinson Elementary School, Northwest High School and the soon-to-be-opened Standing Bear High School.

“All of this comes after the growth that has taken place. Will it stay that way for the next decade? I really don’t know at this point,” Gausman said.

Gausman said while the new high schools are expected to have fewer residents than originally planned, they will make up for themselves as the district’s long-standing high schools currently have oversized capacities.

Some other Lancaster County public school districts are seeing similar trends, albeit on a smaller scale. The Norris Public School district has lost five students this year and District 145, which includes Waverly and Eagle, has lost 14.

But District 145 Superintendent Dr. Cory Worrall, in part, said this drop was part of the district’s plan.

“Because of all the construction going on both in Waverly and now even over in Eagle and then even out in the country, we’ve put a little pressure on option registration,” Worrall said. “Only because our regular growth during this time is sufficient for us.”

That year, District 145 accepted less than 30% of option requests. The year before, they accepted just over half. Worrall said even with small numbers, it’s important to pay close attention to where the numbers are.

“That could mean the difference between having to open another section of the grade level, maybe hiring another grade level teacher in one of our buildings,” Worrall said.

Both public school districts said they are not currently concerned about these trends, just keeping an eye on them and prepared for potential growth or decline.

Even private schools are not immune to these changes. Data from the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln shows that they too saw a 575 student drop in enrollment between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. Their preliminary enrollment numbers for this fall show that the school system recovered only 28 students from that decline.

“Like most schools across the country, we have been impacted by the pandemic. We are seeing an increase in enrollment this year and are working to continue that trend post COVID,” said Rev. Lawrence Stoley, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Lincoln. “We were also pleased to see that in the Diocese of Lincoln (which includes southern Nebraska from the borders of Iowa to Colorado) 40% of all Catholic children attend our schools and in the city of Lincoln 53% of Catholic children attend our parish schools and Pius X high school. We are grateful to parents for their continued support in fulfilling the mission of Catholic education.”

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