[T]he projected total number of preschoolers enrolled in full-day classes is about 2,600, up as many as 500 from last year. . . . "Eighty percent of those preschool kids come from families in poverty . . . [.]" A 10 percent increase is estimated in children enrolled in full-day kindergarten. "Two years ago, we had 70 percent of kindergarten kids in full-day; now, it's over 90 percent. That is an additional 1,200, 1,500 kids.
Stapleton is supplying many of the new pre-schoolers and kindergartners. The school is considering reopening two new elementary schools next year, "Whiteman and Fallis —[which] were among eight Denver elementary schools closed two years ago in an effort to reduce facility costs and improve student achievement."
The Denver Public Schools have ample, indeed excess facilities to meet the needs of its current number of students, with much of its real estate empty or underutilized. But, of course, not all of those facilities are where they are needed. New subdivisions in Northeast Denver are under served. Older neighborhoods have excess school space.
One of the biggest issues for DPS is market share. Something like 25%-35% of the school aged children in the district don't attend DPS schools. In raw numbers that is more than 25,000 students who attend a non-DPS school (either private schools or as a result of school choice) or home school or have dropped out. The percentage of students who could attend DPS, but don't, is particularly high at the middle school and high school level. The local papers have covered where these children have gone and it isn't a simple story. Catholic parochial school enrollments in Denver, for example, have seen declines that have paralleled those in the public schools.
The new enrollment numbers cited today suggest that this barrier hasn't been broken yet. There are just 700-800 new students in grades 1-12, with the balance coming in at the preschool and kindergarten levels. The 1% increase at those grade levels is in line with general population growth in Denver proper, which has had the healthiest real estate market in the metro area during the real estate downturn that metropolitan Denver is at the tail end of experiencing. There isn't a strong indication that the Denver Public Schools are increasing their market share in the higher grades.
My intuition is that a disproportionate share the 700-800 student enrollment growth we are seeing at the post-K level in Denver, is in the grade 1-5 range. In a post-school busing era of neighborhood schools, further buffered by significant school choice options, parents are able to reach a comfort level with their neighborhood elementary schools that they lacked in the past. At my children's elementary school, Steele, every single available space for students in filled. No one is being accepted off waiting lists, every available space for instruction has been utilized, and pre-schoolers have been diverted to a new early childhood education center where the Knight Fundamental Academy charter school was located until it relocated this academic year to a location that was less of a drive or bus ride for most of its students.
Parents hunting middle schools for the DPS elementary school children are carefully reviewing all their options, in a way that I didn't encounter growing up until I went to college, and the job DPS faces is to earn a larger share in this competitive market. Each student the Denver Public Schools fails to win over costs the District about $7,000 per year in operating funds and contributes to its overhang of excess school room capacity.
This is all a bit new to me. So, while I see what is going on, I am ambivalent about what to do about it.
When I was growing up, there was absolutely no school choice, and there was only one K-8 private school option, for kids in Oxford, Ohio. The Talawanda School District has one high school with no private school competition anywhere close, its junior high encompassed everyone even remotely close to it (if not the whole district, I don't recall), and elementary school assignment was strictly a matter of your address. While one could elect to participate in particular extracurricular activities, prior to high school there were no "school within a school" program choices of the type found in a large share of DPS schools. Once in high school there were a couple of vocationally oriented alternatives, but while the rest of the students were tracked, there was no cohesive plan for them other than to prepare them for college, whether that was a plausible option or not. Homeschooling was also less established as a concept or choice.
This background didn't leave me with much intuition about what works for education in a much more highly competitive environment. The issues are obviously important, however, as Denver prepares for another round of school board elections in November (by mail).