EBR school system reports 613 fewer students, still within projection
By Charles Lussier
Advocate staff writer
October 08, 2012
Despite losing hundreds of children to private schools via a new voucher program, the East Baton Rouge Parish public school system’s enrollment is roughly in line with financial projections it made in June.
The enrollment figures were a relief to school administrators, who had feared the possibility of steeper enrollment declines that could have led to budget problems and the possibility of mid-year cutbacks.
On Monday, East Baton Rouge Parish counted 42,690 students at 83 campuses. That’s 613 fewer than the 43,303 students the school system had enrolled Oct. 1, 2011.
School system administrators had projected losing even more students when it prepared its general operating budget, 640 in all, largely because of the state’s takeover this summer of Istrouma High School.
Louisiana public schools take snapshots of enrollment twice a year, on Oct. 1 and Feb. 1. Each child enrolled means thousands of dollars in education funding.
East Baton Rouge Parish earlier this week released its count for Oct. 1, although the figures are still subject to audit. The final enrollment counts for the parish and 69 other public school district won’t be released until later this year.
Some districts release Oct. 1 numbers after they’re taken while others wait.
The results are not always positive.
Earlier this week, East Feliciana Parish revealed its Oct. 1 count was 1,860 students, almost 100 fewer than the year before. To save an estimated $830,000 loss in state aid, the school system is considering laying off a school administrator, 10 teachers and eight support workers.
East Baton Rouge Parish schools had already made more than $28 million in budget cuts for the 2012-13 school year for a variety of reasons, including an expected loss of students as a result of the state’s takeover of Istrouma High.
How many students ended up going to Istrouma is unclear. The Advocate requested Oct. 1 enrollment numbers for the state-run Recovery School Districts schools Thursday but did not receive them by press time Friday.
For the first day of this school year, RSD reported Istrouma had just 239 students enrolled. Last Oct. 1, almost 900 students combined attended Istrouma and the EBR Lab Academy, which also operated on that campus and has since been closed.
Several East Baton Rouge Parish high schools increased in size this compared to a year ago, including Belaire, Scotlandville and Tara, each one of which added more than 100 students.
Tara increased even though it lost some students to the reopened Lee High, which had 226 students — all in ninth and 10th grade. McKinley and Woodlawn high schools sent some students to the new Lee as well. Those high schools lost students overall, but each still has about 1,300 students enrolled this year.
Some Baton Rouge public elementary schools saw enrollment declines. The biggest drop was at Scotlandville Elementary School, where enrollment fell from 562 to 415 students.
Students from the elementary grades are the ones using the most private school vouchers.
For instance, Hosanna Christian Academy in Baton Rouge has 248 children attending on vouchers, with 158 of them split roughly evenly between kindergarten, first and second grades.
The vouchers, which the state describes as “scholarships,” provide children enrolled in C, D and F ranked public schools money with which to transfer to private schools in Louisiana. This year, 117 private schools are participating. Participating students have to meet family income guidelines.
A budget letter state officials sent recently to Louisiana school districts said that Orleans Parish had the most voucher kids, with 2,451. East Baton Rouge is next with 676 and Jefferson Parish is third with 458. The total cost to taxpayers is $25.3 million in private school tuition and fees in 2012-13, though that number could decline if children leave those private schools during the year.
Jesse Noble, chief technology officer for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said the school system received a list of individual students taking vouchers a few days ago but is still looking at the names to see if they are all eligible and if they are rightly being connected with the parish school system.
State Superintendent John White said the private schools have verified the children’s eligibility already and the state plans to audit those records in the spring.
He said some confusion might arise because the state law, approved this spring, says the public school district where the students lives on Sept. 1 is responsible for the voucher, even if C, D and F schools that made the child eligible for a voucher were in a different school district.
White also said that school districts reap “savings” through vouchers by not have to pay the expense of educating children as well as through unspent state education funding. The state is calculating that the savings for this school year will total $9.7 million for affected school districts and $1.2 million for East Baton Rouge Parish specifically.
School district leaders have countered that those are not real saving. They say the state is penalizing public schools, taking away both state aid and money that originated from local taxes, money those schools would continue to have received if the state hadn’t given children in C, D and F schools funding to go to private school instead.
White said he’s heard those arguments but finds them lacking, especially when it comes to kindergartners, children who never attended public school at all.
“They are now getting revenue for a student they have never serviced,” White said.