Iowa public school enrollment rises for fourth straight year

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Enrollment in Iowa's public schools rose for the fourth straight year, the Iowa Department of Education announced Friday.

The overall number of students enrolled for the 2014-15 school year increased by 1,851 from the previous school year, according a report released by the state education department.

The four-year upswing comes after 17 years of declining enrollment. While the pattern will likely continue for the next few years, the department said, that rate of growth is slowing and will eventually plateau.

Nearly 82 percent of Iowa's largest districts posted enrollment gains, which contributed significantly to statewide growth. Des Moines Public Schools, for example, has added 1,421 students over the past five years.

"One factor is the Des Moines metro itself has seen a lot of growth and a lot of national recognition recently," district spokesman Phil Roeder said.

Beyond that, Roeder said the implementation of the International Baccalaureate program in Des Moines Public Schools made the district attractive to families moving to the area and there's been an uptick in the city's immigrant and refugee populations.

Despite the overall increase, a majority of the state's school districts saw declining enrollment, especially the smallest districts. The Walnut Community School District in rural southwest Iowa has 158 students, and has seen a 25 percent decrease in enrollment in the past five years.

Jesse Ulrich, shared superintendent for Walnut and A-H-S-T Community School District in Evoca, said Walnut's rural nature and title of "Iowa's Antique City" aren't helping to draw families.

"As one could imagine, antique shops don't necessarily bring kids to the community," he said.

Ulrich said the two districts will soon be reorganized to create a new district of 770 students due to low enrollment numbers in the area. But the 25 percent decrease doesn't necessarily reflect the number of students Walnut has lost.

"It looks huge, but it's not a ton of kids," he said.

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