1 in 5 Utahns is a public school student; fall ’19 enrollment tops 666,000

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Dec. 11, 2019 at 8:38 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s public school enrollment for fall 2019 exceeds 666,000 students, according to Utah State Board of Education data.

The Oct. 1 head count of 666,858 represents an enrollment increase of 1.19%, or 7,906 students, over the previous year’s head count of 658,952.

However, for the first time since 2005, year-to-year enrollment at Utah’s public charter schools dipped slightly in 2019.

Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, said the decrease was due to rising real estate prices that forced some charter schools to delay their openings until they could find accommodations that meet their physical needs and finances. As a result, no new charter schools opened this fall.

The closure of two charter schools, including the 1,300-student American International School of Utah in Murray, also played a role, he said.

“We don’t have as many kids in charter schools than in years past, but it’s an anomaly because we’ve got these sort of unusual factors,” Van Tassell said.

Seven new schools are slated to open next year, he said.

The total public charter enrollment dropped from 78,300 in fall 2018 to 77,582 this fall. The enrollment of all charter schools combined would be equal to Utah’s second-largest school district, which indicates many parents elect to enroll their children in charter schools, he said.

“People want to find a place that meets the needs of their kids and charter schools are one of the options that work for them,” Van Tassell said.

When compared to the Beehive State’s population of just above 3.2 million people, 1 in 5 Utahns is a public school student. The state board’s count does not include school-age children who attend private schools or are home schooled.

One-third of Utah’s public school students are considered economically disadvantaged and 12% are identified as students with disabilities, according to board data. Eight percent of students statewide are identified as English language learners, up 1% from the previous year.

Alpine School District remains Utah’s largest school district with 81,532 students, followed by Davis at 72,897.

Three school districts in Salt Lake County round out the top five largest districts in Utah: Granite with 63,989 students, Jordan at 56,339, and Canyons with 34,178 students — although Granite’s head count declined by 292 students from the previous year.

The data shows three of the state’s long-established school districts are experiencing enrollment declines as well, including Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo.

Meanwhile, Washington School District experienced a 9% increase in enrollment, climbing from 31,074 a year ago to 33,884 this fall.

The largest public school statewide is Alpine School District’s Skyridge High School in Lehi, which had a head count of 2,989 on Oct. 1.

The state’s smallest school, which is not an online school or specialty school, is Box Elder School District’s Grouse Creek Elementary and Secondary School, with a combined student body of five students, up 25% from 2018, when its enrollment was four.

The state’s smallest districts are Daggett with 189 students, Tintic with 214 students, Piute at 279, Rich at 498, and Garfield at 899.

Mark Peterson, spokesman for the Utah State Board of Education, said it is noteworthy that ethnic minorities make up more than 25% of the state’s public school population, a stark change from 20 years ago.

The enrollment figures help state education officials plan services to better meet students’ needs, he said.

Peterson said equity is a key underpinning of the State School Board’s mission statement: “The Utah State Board of Education leads by creating equitable conditions for student success: advocating for necessary resources, developing policy, and providing effective oversight and support.”

That means the state strives to ensure students who don’t have the benefit of Wi-Fi or books and magazines at home or parents who read to them daily “can make up that gap while in school,” he said.

Utah’s public school population is:

• 74% white.

• 17% Hispanic.

• 3% multiracial.

• 2% Asian.

• 2% Pacific Islander.

• 1% African American.

• 1% American Indian.

Marjorie Cortez

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