The Clark County School District is expecting about 10,000 fewer students this year than last school year, which would mark the sixth consecutive enrollment decline.
The nation’s fifth-largest district had 284,130 students as of Aug. 11, the first Friday of the school year.
The district said in a statement last week to the Las Vegas Review-Journal that “enrollment numbers tend to fluctuate during the first few weeks of school.”
“As of right now, we’re currently on track to meet our projections,” Director of Comprehensive Planning Rick Baldwin said Wednesday.
The district predicts it will gain more than 10,000 additional students — for a total of 294,216 — by the time an official enrollment tally is taken in early October.
Last year, the district had 304,276 students on that date.
‘Good place to be’
The district continues to enroll new students, Baldwin said, noting that Mondays tend to be the biggest days. More than 2,000 students enrolled this Monday, followed by more than 1,000 on Tuesday and more than 270 on Wednesday.
So far, most grade levels are on track to be 1 percent over enrollment projections, which is a “very healthy and good place to be,” he said.
The one major anomaly is kindergarten, with enrollment coming in significantly under projections, Baldwin said. The district is at about 80 percent of its projected kindergarten enrollment of 20,537.
The situation “kind of has us baffled,” he said, noting that “economic factors are the current theory.”
Baldwin said the district is also seeing a “few other little anomalies” with enrollment.
That includes one of the top elementary schools in the northwest valley that has 117 fewer students than expected, but all of the surrounding schools are doing fine with enrollment, he said.
Baldwin said he’s watching the situation closely at the school — which he didn’t name — and has been on the phone with the principal multiple times.
The district’s official enrollment tally, which is reported to the Nevada Department of Education, isn’t taken until the first Monday in October. It’s often referred to as “validation day.”
In addition, the district has an internal “count day” — Aug. 25 this year — that’s used to determine how to allocate money to school budgets and how to adjust staffing. Some employees are involuntarily transferred to other schools in a process called “surplus.”
The district has seen challenges such as large class sizes, a teacher shortage and increased competition because of more public charter schools opening. It has also seen COVID-related impacts, including a drop in test scores and an uptick in fights on school campuses.
The Clark County Education Association has been holding protests amid contentious contract negotiations and called this spring for Superintendent Jesus Jara’s resignation. A divided school board voted in 2021 to fire Jara but reversed course the following month.
Why fewer kindergartners?
Las Vegas is becoming an increasingly expensive place to live, Baldwin said, and the end of the eviction moratorium is affecting certain schools with low-income and transient populations.
Also, Nevada’s kindergarten cutoff date changed again — the result of a bill passed by state legislators. Now children must be 5 years old by Aug. 1.
Children who turn 5 from Aug. 2-7 can get an exemption for this school year if they completed preschool, which includes homeschool programs.
The cutoff used to be the first day of school, which varied among the state’s 17 school districts. The date has also changed multiple times in recent years, leading to some confusion among parents.
Another possible factor in kindergarten enrollment declines: Clark County is in its sixth year of declining birth rates, Baldwin said.
He said the district calculates the rate to align with the school year calendar — from August to July — and the birth rate was down 1.24 percent for the 2022 school year.
But overall, the county saw a 2.5 percent population increase from April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The county gained about more than 57,500 residents, for a total of 2.3 million.
It’s important to contextualize Clark County’s enrollment drop compared with other large urban school systems, said Bradley Marianno, an associate professor of educational policy and leadership at UNLV.
Compared with some peers such as Los Angeles, Miami-Dade and Chicago, “CCSD is doing better,” he said.
Clark County’s overall population is still growing — a plus in terms of school enrollment, Marianno said, noting that a number of urban areas are losing residents.
Nationwide, other factors behind declining public school enrollment include a drop in the fertility rate over time and increasing housing prices in urban areas, Marianno said.
“But inside the school system, there have been some trends that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and look like they’re going to continue for a little bit,” he said.
That includes the growth of private and charter school enrollment, he said.
Plus the number of homeschooled children skyrocketed during the pandemic, Marianno said. “That should be the most concerning factor for large school systems. Parents are choosing not to enroll their kids at all in public school.”
He said that factor may partially account for the drop in kindergarten students in Clark County.