Dept. of Education: School enrollment numbers down in RI

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Public school enrollment in the U.S. is up three percent over the last decade. But, in Rhode Island, it’s down 18 percent. So, where are all the students going? And what do all the empty desks mean for your child and their education?

In Warwick, the city’s new interim superintendent said he will open the school year by figuring out how to close down two of his district’s schools.

“Warwick is at the brink where it had to act,” said Dr. William Holland.

Learn about enrollment in your school district »
Learn about enrollment in your school district »

Beginning in the fall of 2016, two of the district’s junior high schools will close their doors. And, the city’s three high schools will consolidate down to two; all in response to declining enrollment.

“We’re left with too many school buildings. Some of them are less than 50 percent capacity,” Holland explained. “We’re left with too many teachers. And fewer students because of declining enrollment.”

According to the Rhode Island Department of Education, since 2005, enrollment in Warwick is down more than 22 percent and other districts are seeing even larger declines.

Little Compton has lost more than 24 percent of its students. Central Falls has lost 26 percent. And in Foster-Glocester, 33 percent of students have left the district in the last 10 years.

In all, Rhode Island has lost more than 28,000 public school students.

According to the National Education Association, Rhode Island is losing students at one of the highest rates in the country.

“You’ve got to look at the overall view of an elderly population, people growing older, not having children,” Larry Purtill, President of the NEA of Rhode Island said. “I think students graduate from high school and college in Rhode Island and leave looking for jobs. So, it’s an economic factor. So, I think you know its all intertwined.”

The state’s Department of Education said another big reason for dropping enrollment is alternatives like charter, technical and private schools.

Over the past 10 years the number of charter schools in the state more than doubled from 11 to 28.

“When they leave, the money follows the student. But the cost savings to the district doesn’t go down because you still have all the requirements of busing, special needs, the same amount of teachers etc. So, if that continues then there’s going to be a financial hit to the regular public schools and programs could get cut,” Purtill added.

One of RIDE’s recommendations for dealing with the drop in enrollment could mean major changes for students and their families, consolidating schools by region.

“I mean, people again like their schools, like their districts. But, they need to start looking at it now and not wait five to 10 years,” Purtill said.

Purtill also said there things districts can do before it comes to statewide regionalization, like combining special education services. He also noted the teachers union will be working with state lawmakers to come up with a funding formula to help districts adapt to declining enrollment.

Use this interactive to see a district-by-district breakdown over the past 10 years.

Plus, check out our Parent Resource Guide. That’s where you’ll fin school calendars, immunization requirements and bus routes.

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