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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

May 28, 2014 at 5:00 AM

More students expected in Seattle and other area school districts

Seattle school officials expect nearly 1,400 more students next fall which, if they are right, would mean the seventh straight year of growth for the state’s largest school district.

On Tuesday, the officials announced that they are projecting a total enrollment of 52,379 students in 2014-15, up from 51,101 this school year.  That’s about 7,000 more than in 2007-08, when enrollment first started to increase after a decade of decline.

That growth is why many Seattle schools are full and overflowing, and a major reason the district asked voters to approve a $695 million levy in 2013, which it is using for major renovations of nine schools and to build or rebuild another eight.

Other area districts are growing fast, too. The Lake Washington School District, for example, recently reported that it has grown by 1,600 students over the past two years, and expects another 4,000 over the next eight. Other Puget Sound districts with rapid growth include Issaquah, Renton and Tahoma.

Among the 50 largest districts in the state, Seattle ranked 8th in terms of growth from 2011-13, according to the latest data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. An analysis based on earlier data, done by the Associated Press, placed Seattle in the top 20. Lake Washington, with the later numbers, ranked third, Issaquah fourth, and Northshore seventh.

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Seattle school officials say the factors driving their district’s enrollment rise include the city’s continued growth as well as the economic downturn, which has left fewer families able to afford private school. They also think it is related to the big changes Seattle made in 2009 to the way it assigns students to schools.

The new assignment plan, which was phased in starting in fall 2010, guarantees families a spot at a school close to home. Before then, students sometimes ended up at schools far from where they lived.

Tracy Libros, the district’s enrollment manager, said the district no longer even sees a drop in the number of students between 5th grade, the last year of elementary school, and 6th grade, the first year of middle school.

The district’s new enrollment projection is a little higher than officials had previously projected, but not much, so it continues to be in line with the district’s construction plans, Libros said.

Yet despite the rise in public school enrollment, Seattle continues to have a relatively high rate of private school enrollment compared to other cities in Washington  and nationally.

In 2012, the latest data available, the Census Bureau estimated that 22 percent of Seattle’s school-aged children attended private schools. The city of Bellevue had the second highest rate, with an estimated 16 percent. In other large Washington cities, including Federal Way, Kent, Renton and Tacoma, the private school rate was 12 percent or less.

Nationally, Seattle’s private-school attendance rate was lower than San Francisco’s, estimated at 28 percent in 2012, but higher than the rates in Portland and Minneapolis (12 percent), Boston (13 percent), and Denver (11 percent).

The total number of Seattle students attending private schools has remained about the same from 2007 to 2012, according to census estimates — roughly 14,000.

Many thanks to Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk, who helped find some of the data in this post.


Comments | More in News | Topics: enrollment, Seattle Public Schools


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