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School enrollment dropped by almost 15,000 across Indiana

Many urban, suburban, and rural Indiana districts had fewer students this year while enrollment surged at virtual schools.

Young student writes at a desk while another girl looks on.

K-12 enrollment in Indiana appears to be lower at all types of schools, although it held steady in some districts.

Alan Petersime/Chalkbeat

Nearly 15,000 fewer students are enrolled in Indiana schools this school year than last year, a dip of about 1.5% that mirrors declines seen across the country amid the pandemic. 

Many urban, suburban, and rural Indiana districts had fewer students this year, according to state data released Friday. At the same time, in a sign that some families were choosing online schools, enrollment surged at a virtual charter school and in a tiny district that runs several online schools. 

It is unclear precisely what factors contributed to the dip. The state has not yet released detailed enrollment data, including information by grade level, race, or school. The drop is part of a national trend. In Chicago, for example, enrollment fell by 4% this year. One reason for lower enrollment nationally is parents are not sending their children to kindergarten, with some school systems seeing drops as steep as 15%.

In Indiana, enrollment appears to be lower at all types of schools, although it held steady in some districts. At Fort Wayne Community Schools, one of the largest school systems in the state, enrollment dropped by almost 800 students, about 3% down from last school year. Last week, Indianapolis Public Schools said enrollment was down nearly 4% and attributed the decline in part to fewer students enrolling in kindergarten. 

Many suburban and rural districts also had fewer students this year. In the Hamilton Southeastern district outside of Indianapolis, enrollment was about 400 students lower this year, a decline of almost 2%. In Benton Community Schools, a rural district that educates about 1,600 students, enrollment was down by almost 6% or about 100 students. 

While many Indiana districts lost students, a handful saw significant increases. Indiana Connections Academy, a large virtual charter school, enrolled 6,700 students — a jump of almost 40% over last year. 

Union Schools, a rural district that operates several statewide virtual schools managed by the for-profit K12 Inc., had an even larger increase in enrollment. The district now educates 6,500 students, almost 50% more than last year.

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