Enrollment in D.C. Schools Is Close to Target

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 10, 2009; B04

Enrollment in D.C. public schools topped 44,000 Wednesday, bringing it within a few hundred students of administrators' target for the 2009-10 academic year, Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's office reported.

Jennifer Calloway, Rhee's spokeswoman, said enrollment in the system's 127 schools stood at 44,397, a significant increase from the 37,000 students registered when classes began Aug. 24. That means the District has recouped virtually all of the audited enrollment that was on its books at the end of the 2008-09 school year: 44,681 students. The total also is the basis for the $760 million 2010 school system budget approved by the D.C. Council.

Calloway said the increase is consistent with patterns of delayed enrollment in past school years.

"Annually, the trend is that parents enroll their students late," she said. An advertising campaign and the decision to move the beginning of the enrollment period from July to April also helped, she said.

"We got started early because we wanted to give teachers and principals a chance to plan," Calloway said. "We're happy about where we are today."

Several schools featured in the "Rediscover DCPS" student recruitment campaign, which included radio, bus and Metro ads, exceeded enrollment projections. They include Hardy Middle School in Northwest (101 more than its projected total of 316), Tyler Elementary in Southeast (62 more than a projected 237) and Wheatley Education Campus, a pre-K-8 school in Northeast (70 more than an expected 364 students).

The numbers represent encouraging news for the D.C. system, whose annual student enrollment has dropped by more than half since 1980. Over the past decade, the public charter school movement has grown dramatically. The publicly financed, independently operated schools expect to serve 28,066 students this academic year, up by more than 10 percent from 2008-09.

The student population is likely to continue to be a moving target as the school year progresses. The District takes its official count in early October and hires a CPA firm to audit the results and confirm that each student is a D.C. resident. The final number will be available early next year.

Rhee told the council in the spring that she expected persistent enrollment declines to bottom out and that the total number of students would edge upward to slightly more than 45,000. But the council, citing gains in charter school population that its members thought were at the expense of traditional public schools, found her analysis implausible. It briefly held back $27 million of the school system's 2010 budget before both sides agreed to use last year's 44,681 as the benchmark.

The District's enrollment remains by far the smallest of the region's major school systems. In fall 2008, Fairfax County had nearly 170,000 students. Montgomery County was at nearly 140,000, and Prince George's County had more than 127,000.

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