Decline and out-migration continue in 191
Two pandemic-related anomalies appear in a fall enrollment report that shows a continued pattern of decline and out-migration from School District 191.
Mirroring recent years, the district continues to bleed students to other districts — chiefly, neighboring Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan District 196 — even as its overall student population remains stable.
In the annual head count taken on Oct. 1, the district had an unusually small kindergarten class of 610, about 45 students fewer than in recent years, Stacey Sovine, executive director of human resources, told the School Board Nov. 12. Some families are withholding children from kindergarten because of uncertainty over school settings during the pandemic.
“That’s a national trend,” Sovine said. “We’re seeing that in our neighboring districts and across the country. Families are holding onto their kindergartners and their first school experience if they can for one more year.”
The count also showed a sudden drop this year in students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, which officials said could slash the amount of compensatory funding the district receives for at-risk students.
In the last four Oct. 1 enrollment counts, 51 to 53 percent of district students received free or subsidized meals. That dropped to 38 percent this year, from 4,300 to 2,913.
It may be the result of some eligible families choosing distance learning only through the One91 Virtual Academy, Sovine said. With no children in the buildings, families might not have applied for meal assistance. (All students will be returned to distance learning Nov. 30 because of rising COVID-19 case numbers.)
The compensatory revenue loss “will be problematic for us,” said Lisa Rider, executive director of business services. But state legislators are aware of the problem, which is occurring statewide, she said. District officials are hoping for federal and state relief.
The number of meals the district is serving in the community during the pandemic shows there is food insecurity, despite the drop in applications for free or subsidized school meals, Superintendent Theresa Battle said.
“It would be a reduction in compensatory,” she said. “And based on the community need, we don’t think the numbers are accurate. ... We believe the need is there.”
The Oct. 1 head count showed 7,616 students in grades kindergarten through 12, 10 more than last year’s year-end enrollment. But previous-year seniors returning at the beginning of the year to finish credits for graduation typically inflate the October number, said Sovine, who expects the district to lose about 50 of them after first semester.
Fall K-12 counts for the last five years show steady enrollment decline in a district that began shedding students two decades ago. The district had 8,914 students in the fall of 2016-17 and 8,058 a year ago.
The number of students living in the district has been stable for a decade, Sovine said. There were 10,476 resident students in 2009-10 and 10,537 in 2019-20.
But the number of students attending district schools fell from 9,274 to 7,709 over that period. The number of resident students attending other districts grew from 1,202 to 2,282.
“The number of students which we have living within our district is fairly flat,” Sovine said. “We are losing students by (family) choice. Open enrollment is by choice.”
Kindergarten classes have remained relatively stable in recent years but the numbers drop off after that, showing that “folks are making choices after that point in time,” he said.
Sovine explained the demographics of decline and out-migration.
“Over the last six to seven years, we’ve had 5,000 students of color,” Sovine said. “And that number has remained pretty well flat. ... The number of students that we are losing is in our white population year over year.”
The head count shows the district has 33 percent white students, 29 percent black not Hispanic, 22 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and 8 percent two or more ethnicities.
“We have an open enrollment problem, obviously,” Board Member Eric Miller said. “The declining number is in the white ethnicity category. In fact, if we look at what they call the black non-Hispanic category and Hispanic categories, there’s growth in those categories.”
He noted that the district’s high school enrollment is “more white than a lot of our elementary schools,” suggesting that more of the students most likely to leave the district are staying put at that level.
“For all of the doom and gloom that I tend to talk about, I do want to point out a little positivity here,” Miller said.
Of the 2,228 resident students attending public schools outside the district in 2019-20, 1,129 chose District 196. The next choices were Prior Lake-Savage (576), Bloomington (120) and Lakeville (107).
The outflow is much larger than the 565 students who enrolled into 191 from other districts in 2019-20.