Lincoln area schools monitoring slowing enrollment growth amid recovery from pandemic drop

During the 2020-2021 school year, 584 students left Lincoln Public Schools. In the two years since then, LPS has gained back about 20% of those students.
Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 6:37 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Each day, 41,784 early childhood to twelfth-grade learners attend Lincoln Public school. That’s just 37 more than last year, but new Superintendent Dr. Paul Gausman said he’s just happy to see positive growth.

“We actually projected as part of our budget we would lose more than 100 students,” Gausman said.

Across the country, experts are reporting stalling public school enrollment. In part, because of the pandemic and a related jump in homeschooling.

The Nebraska Department of Education shows in the 2020-2021 school year, enrollment dropped by about 5,000 students state-wide. LPS lost 584 students. In the two years since then, the state has gained back more than half of those students and LPS has gained back about 20%.

But the pandemic isn’t the only factor.

“With live birth rate, with coming out of the pandemic, with some of the challenges with immigration in most recent years,” Gausman said. “A lot of districts have plateaued in their in their enrollment.”

Lincoln’s live birth rate has dropped from 14.5 births per 1,000 people a year in 2010 to 11.5 in 2020, the most recent data available from the Lincoln-Lancaster county health department. While the city’s population is still growing, the average rate of growth is roughly half of what it was five years ago.

Gausman said this matters because enrollment numbers mean resources

“If you are a declining enrollment district, you have to understand that it might take fewer people in the future here to serve the number of students we have because it’s a smaller number and so you’re always watching for that challenge that can occur,” Gausman said. “Now we’re a large enough district with almost 1000 employees. We have people who come and go every year because of family situations and retirement and that sort of thing. So we can handle a plateau we can handle a slight decline, we can handle a slight increase.”

10/11 NOW asked Gausman how slowing enrollment would impact filling the new schools the district has recently opened or will be opening in the future, including Ada Robinson Elementary School, Northwest High School, and the soon-to-open Standing Bear High School.

“All of that comes after growth that has occurred. Will that continue for the next decade? I really don’t know at this time,” Gausman said.

Gausman did say while the new high schools are anticipated to have smaller populations than they were designed for to start, they will even out, as the district’s longstanding high schools are currently over-designed capacity.

Some other public school districts in Lancaster County are seeing similar trends, though on a smaller scale. Norris Public School district lost five students this year and District 145 with Waverly and Eagle are down 14.

But District 145 Superintendent Dr. Cory Worrall said in part, this decline is part of the district’s plan.

“Because of all the construction that is going on, both in Waverly and now even over in Eagle, and then even out into the country, we’ve put a little bit of our thumb on option enrollment,” Worrall said. “Just because our regular growth is plenty for us to handle at this time.”

This year, District 145 accepted less than 30% of option applications. The year before, they accepted just over half. Worrall said even with small numbers, it’s important to keep a close eye on where numbers are at.

“That might mean the difference between, we have to open up another section of grade level, maybe we’re hiring another grade level teacher in one of our buildings,” Worrall said.

Both public school districts said they aren’t concerned about these trends at this time, just keeping an eye and being ready for potential growth or decline.

Private schools are also not immune to these changes. Data from the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln shows they too saw enrollment drop by 575 students between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. Their preliminary enrollment number for this fall shows the school system has gained back just 28 students from that drop.

“Like most schools across the country, we were impacted by the pandemic. We are seeing an uptick in enrollment this year and we are working to continue that trend post-COVID,” Rev. Lawrence Stoley, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Lincoln Diocese said. “We were also happy to see that in the Diocese of Lincoln (which covers southern Nebraska from Iowa to Colorado borders) 40% of all Catholic children attend our schools, and in the city of Lincoln, 53% of Catholic children attend our parish schools and Pius X High School. We are grateful to parents for their continued support in fulfilling the mission of Catholic education.”