Colorado’s largest school district continues to grow, though not at the same breakneck pace that saw Denver Public Schools gain 20,000 students in the past decade. This year, DPS has 902 more students in preschool through 12th grade for a total of 92,331 kids, according to officials.
That’s about a 1 percent increase over last year, when the district had 91,429 students.
There are several reasons why student enrollment is slowing even as the city’s population is surging.
As outlined by the district’s planning office in a presentation to the school board, housing prices are rising in the gentrifying city, pushing lower-income families out of Denver. New home construction is booming, but much of it is aimed at millennials, most of whom don’t have school-aged children.
Furthermore, birth rates are down since the Great Recession. And unlike a decade ago, when 25 percent of Denver kids didn’t go to the public schools, the district has recaptured many students through school improvement efforts, leading to decreased growth potential.
So who are the students who attend DPS? The presentation highlights several enrollment trends. Here are five telling pieces of data, illustrated:
The percentage of Latino students has decreased since 2012, as has the percentage of low-income students. Meanwhile, the percentage of white students is on the rise.
The percentages of black students and students characterized as “other” have remained steady.
Enrollment in DPS’s various special education programs — known as “center-based programs” — is decreasing, with the exception of the autism program.
Enrollment in the autism program has increased 117 percent since 2009. That trend is being seen across the country as autism diagnoses have risen, the presentation notes.
More special education students are being served in charter schools.
Students with mild to moderate special needs are now served equally in district-run schools and charter schools: in both types of schools, students with mild to moderate disabilities make up about 9 percent of the overall student population. District-run schools still have more “center-based programs” than charter schools but the gap is narrowing.
White students attend high-performing schools at a higher rate than students of color.
Seventy-one percent of white students attend a “blue” or “green” school — the two highest ratings on the district’s color-coded scale known as the School Performance Framework and schools the district considers high-performing — while only 44 percent of Latino and 45 percent of black students do.
Fewer low-income students attend high-performing schools than their wealthier peers, but the gap has narrowed. However, the gap has grown for English language learners.
In 2009-10, 36 percent of students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty, attended high-performing schools. In 2015-16, 41 percent did. The percentage of non-low-income students attending high-performing schools stayed steady at 67 percent, meaning the gap between the two narrowed by 5 percentage points.
Meanwhile, the gap between English language learners and non-English language learners attending high-performing schools grew from 10 percentage points to 12 percentage points.