Declining enrollments push school districts to compete for students - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Declining enrollments push school districts to compete for students

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Posted: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 2:25 pm

In some East Valley school districts, nearly 10 percent of the population comes from outside the district boundaries.

School choices abound in Arizona. Recently, a woman in Ohio was convicted of a felony for enrolling her girls at an out-of-neighborhood school.

That wouldn't likely happen here.

Arizona law allows students to open enroll in any public school. Many districts have policies that give first choice to neighborhood students, then district students, then employees' kids and out-of-district children.

And then there are charter schools, special programs within districts, and, of course, private education.

This year, 3,816 students attending Chandler schools live outside the district's boundaries.

They enroll for a number of reasons, said spokesman Terry Locke. Some parents want the self-contained gifted program. Some high school students want the International Baccalaureate program.

"In some cases, grandmother lives down the street and will babysit after school," he said.

Competition for students is stiff in this state. Each charter school or district receives between $5,000 and $6,000 from the state for each child enrolled.

With many districts now experiencing zero growth or declining enrollment, that competition may increase.

In fact, according to initial figures, students are making more and more choices, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. During a recent interview, Huppenthal said he learned enrollment in district schools statewide is down this year about half a percent, while students in charter schools now make up nearly 13 percent of the public school enrollment.

Tempe Union High School District board president Zita Johnson said the schools there have worked to create different opportunities, from the Payne Academy, a college-preparatory program, to a new fine arts focus being proposed for Mountain Pointe High School.

"We find it does attract some students from outside their boundary area," Johnson said. "Within the district, students have those choices, too, depending on their interests and talents."

Tempe Union, with nearly 14,000 students, has 1,700 enrolled from out of district.

Gilbert Unified School District Superintendent Dave Allison said this week that as the district goes through its strategic planning process, ideas to increase enrollment may become part of that.

The district is forecasting its first-ever decline, with 300 fewer students expected next school year, about half the size of a small elementary school.

While the district has focus schools such as Neely Traditional School and Gilbert Classical Academy, most of the students on those campuses are from the Gilbert district.

However, both Desert Ridge and Campo Verde high schools pull students in from other districts because of their locations and programs, he said.

Mesa Unified School District pulls in students from all over the East Valley. Its specialty programs include Montessori, back-to-basics Franklin Schools, Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies, and more.

Most school districts start the open enrollment process in January of the prior school year. For information, see your district's website or call your district office.

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