MADISON — The number of students enrolled in Watertown public schools dropped dramatically from the previous year, according to figures released late last week by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
The DPI reported Thursday enrollment in school districts across the state declined 3%. In Watertown, which started the year virtually and changed this month to allow in-person learning, the decline was 7.84%, more than double the state average.
All school districts in the area, except for Waterloo, reported fewer students in public schools on the third Friday in September 2020, than on the third Friday of September, 2019, according to DPI information on fall student counts and school district revenue limits for the 2020-2021 school year.
Wisconsin school districts, independent charter schools, and private school parental choice programs reported overall slowdowns or declines in enrollment, particularly in 4K. Districts also reported summer school participation declined by more than half between 2019 and 2020. The data published is unaudited and is based off of enrollment counts performed on Sept. 18, the third Friday of September, and reported to the DPI.
School district enrollment data is used to determine revenue limits, which, in combination with the general school aids, determine school boards’ maximum property tax levies. Enrollment figures are used to determine school tax levies and rates.
The student count data includes unduplicated headcounts and full-time equivalent membership. Headcount is the number of students enrolled for instruction in a given school or district on the count date. Membership is a full-time equivalent value used for school finance purposes, where students in preschool special education, 4K, and part-time kindergarten are counted as less than 1.0 FTE. Membership for school districts reflects residency, not enrollment; a student in the open enrollment program is included in the headcount for the district they attend, but the membership for the district where they reside. District membership also includes an addition of summer school FTE.
With the coronavirus pandemic, many parents have opted out of sending children to kindergarten. The DPI reported 25,232 fewer students were attending public school districts this fall than last year. There were 818,922 students enrolled in schools on Sept. 18, down 3% from September 2019. In comparison, from 2018 to 2019, there was a decline of 0.4%. The September 2020 district headcount was led by a decline of 15.8% in 4K and preschool special education. The kindergarten headcount declined 4.9%, while first through 12th grades —where Wisconsin’s mandatory school attendance laws apply — were down 1.9%.
Total school district enrollment for fall 2020, which includes summer and September FTE, was 809,104. The decline from fall 2019 to fall 2020 was 3.9%, with summer FTE down by 57.2% and September FTE by 2.6%.
In the Watertown district, the third Friday count was 3,279, down 279 students from the 2019 count of 3,558, a decline of 7.84% of the student body.
In the Dodgeland district, enrollment in 2019 was 747, compared to 711 this year, a decline of 36 students or 4.82%.
In the Hustisford district, enrollment was 387 in 2019 compared to 332 this year, a decline of 55 students or 14.21%.
In the Jefferson district, enrollment was 1,817 in 2019, compared to 1,794 reported this year, a decline of 23 studsents or 1.2%.
In the Johnson Creek district, enrollment was 656 on Sept. 18, a drop of 80 students from the 576 reported in 2019, a decline of 12.2%.
In the Lake Mills district, the 2019 enrollment was 1,608, compared to 1,576 reported this year, a drop of 32 students or 1.99%.
Waterloo was the only school district in the area that reported an increase in students. Waterloo reported 766 students this year, up one fro the 2019 count of 765 in 2019, an increase of 0.13%
As part of the 2019-2021 biennial budget, Wisconsin school districts received a $179 per member increase in revenue limits for the 2020-21 school year, and the per-member minimum for low-revenue districts was increased to $10,000. Students attending other school districts through open enrollment, independent charter schools, or private schools in parental choice programs can affect their resident school districts’ revenue limits and/or general state aids, but the specific details vary by student and program.
Revenue limits are based upon a three-year “rolling” average of September enrollment, plus 40% of summer FTE, where last year’s average (2017-18 through 2019-20) is compared to this year’s (2018-19 through 2020-21).