Student count, free meal percentage, down in D51

While statewide enrollment increased this fall compared with last fall, School District 51 lost 174 preschool through 12th-grade students.

Districts across Colorado take a head count of all students on one day on or near Oct. 1 each year. That number is used to calculate how much money each school district will receive from the state funding formula.

This fall, District 51 counted 21,294 kindergarten through 12th-graders and 623 preschool students. The loss of students amounted to a state-funding decrease of more than $900,000 for the district year over year.

The district anticipated a drop of 165 full-time students when it was creating its budget for 2011–12 and made only minor adjustments and no program cuts when the School Board readopted the current year’s budget earlier this month.

The district gained 61 students in 2010 compared with the previous year. District 51 spokesman Jeff Kirtland said it is too early to say whether the district will anticipate another enrollment decrease for the 2012–13 budget.

“We’ve been a growing district up until the last two years,” Kirtland said.

Colorado’s total public school enrollment increased year over year by 1.3 percent to 854,265 in 2011.

Student count data released Friday by the Colorado Department of Education also showed 40.85 percent of public school students in the state applied for free or reduced-price meals. Students whose family income is 130 percent of the poverty level qualify for free meals, and students whose family income is 185 percent of the poverty level qualify for reduced-price meals. The federal government reimburses school districts for those meals.

The percentage of District 51 students receiving free or reduced meals jumped from 38.83 percent in 2008 to 44.97 percent in 2009 and hasn’t moved much since then. The rate dropped slightly from 45.5 percent in 2010 to 45.13 percent of kindergarten through 12th-grade students in 2011, which did not surprise District 51 Nutrition Services Director Dan Sharp.

“It correlates to existing unemployment challenges and flat salaries,” Sharp said.

Sharp said he believes more people qualify for free or reduced-price meals but are not applying because they fear a stigma will be attached to receiving the meals. Sharp said confidentiality laws keep most people in a school, including, teachers, lunchroom workers and other students, from knowing which students receive the reduced-price or free meals.

Sharp said the number of students who are buying school lunch dropped 4 percent year over year. Sharp said most of the students who stopped buying lunch were paying full price, and he believes some could benefit from applying for free or reduced lunches.

“When I’m in the schools, a lot of kids are packing cup-of-soups or leftovers,” he said.

Clifton, Nisley, Dos Rios and Rocky Mountain elementary schools continue to have 75 percent or more of their students receive free or reduced-price meals.

One school, Chipeta Elementary, rose into that category this year. Mesa Valley Vision Home and Community Program and Glade Park School again had the lowest rates in the district this fall at 1.62 percent and 0 percent, respectively.


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