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School enrollment numbers rise across state, dip in Jasper County

Published: Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 11:53 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 11:55 a.m. CDT

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Despite a statewide, one-year rise in enrollment numbers across Iowa’s public schools, four of the five districts within Jasper County experienced downturns in enrollment from the 2011-2012 to the 2012-2013 school year.

The statewide jump of 0.6 percent represents the first increase in student enrollment the state has seen since 1996, due in part to birth rates spiking in 2007. Although numbers are up from the 2011-2012 academic year, the overall trend across Iowa suggests a steadily declining enrollment.

Specifically speaking, enrollment declined in 167 school districts and climbed in 170 districts over the course of the past year;  eleven districts reported no change in enrollment figures.

District figures within Jasper County remained consistent with these measures, with only PCM reporting a higher enrollment than it had last year. The remaining four districts experienced declines, ranging from a one percent dip in Newton to an 8.2 percent drop in Baxter.

Despite the decline experienced by Baxter schools, the percentage of which represents a loss of 32 students, Baxter Superintendent Matt Patton pointed out the positive changes the district has experienced.

“Our open enrollment numbers have increased,” Patton said. “We have the highest open enrollment of anybody in the county by percentage, and highest that we’ve ever had, so we’re getting kids to come here from Newton and Colfax.”

Of Baxter’s 353 total students during the 2012-2013 school year, 73 have open enrolled in, while just nine chose to open enroll out of the district. Patton said that these numbers have increased steadily since 1990, when the open enrollment policy went into effect.

Open enrollment numbers also have made an impact at PCM, said superintendent Jane Babcock of the schools’ increased enrollment.

“We have a larger number of students open enrolling into the district,” she said. “That’s a good thing. We have people feeling good about the district and wanting their kids to come here.”

This, paired with a resurgence of families moving to the district’s two communities, has helped boost PCM’s enrollment over the last academic year.

“One of the things that may have led to (the increase) is that a number of families have moved to our communities, and with new families, come new students.” Babcock explained that many of these families may work primarily in Pella, Newton or Des Moines, but choose Prairie City and Monroe to call home, as a result of their “small-town, welcoming spirit.”

Of Jasper County’s 5,656 students enrolled in the five public school districts during the 2011-2012 academic year, enrollment declined by a total 103 students, representing 1.8 percent of the student body.

Staff writer Nicole Wiegand may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 422, or at nwiegand@newtondailynews.com.

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