Enrollment at public schools in Wabash County is declining or stagnant, and transfers across Wabash school districts are nearly equivalent among them, according to Indiana Department of Education reports.
Phase I of the Community Foundation of Wabash County’s “Studies for Advancement” found that the county’s population will continue to decline, along with student enrollment:
“Wabash County’s population has declined in recent years and its median age has risen, a trend that is forecast to accelerate by 2026. As a result, fewer school-aged children will be living in the county, thereby reducing student enrollment numbers,” the report said.
New reports from IDOE show similar findings.
IDOE enrollment reports from 2006-2017 track the number of students in school districts across the county. In order to get an honest assessment, pre-kindergarten data was omitted in the following calculations because it is not factored into state tuition funding.
From 2006-2017, the Metropolitan School District’s enrollment saw the sharpest decrease at 20.5 percent and Manchester Community Schools decreased 2.7 percent, while Wabash City Schools saw the only increase at less than 1 percent.
A report prepared for IDOE by Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy found that enrollment across the state has seen similar declines, especially in rural and town locales.
In addition, that report said, “Findings from the analyses of Indiana’s school funding formula indicate that the state’s public school corporations experienced substantial changes in state funding between 2009 and 2017.”
In Indiana, state funding follows the student, and with enrollment numbers decreasing across the state, it has led school districts to compete with neighboring school districts to attract new students.
“I’ve seen reports periodically for school districts advertising for enrollment, trying to transfer students from other districts but you know that’s kind of a zero sum game,” said Thomas Sugimoto, evaluation coordinator and researcher for the IU Center for Education and Evaluation. But Sugimoto said his studies do not focus on the feasibility of advertising.
Although MSD saw the largest decrease in population, it has the most net transfers out of any district in the county, totaling 188.
MCS had 79 net transfers, while WCS had the only negative net transfer of nine students.
According to the report, a transfer is a student who legally resides within a certain school district boundary but attends school in another school district.
These transfer numbers do not mean that 188 students came to MSD in the 2017-2018 school year, but it does mean that 188 students chose MSD instead of their local district.
Between the three school districts, most transfers are equal in and out of their school corporation, according to IDOE reports.
Phase I of the “Studies for Advancement” also found that nearly all transfers between MSD, WCS and MCS are from within the county, and not from surrounding counties.
The study read, “the loss of enrollment over time is not expected to be mitigated by the in-migration of out-of-county students.”
The Community Foundation said the results of declining county population and enrollment are not necessarily something the school corporations can dictate because the school does not have a say in how much money the government provides for each student.