CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – The Wake County Board of Education took a closer look Tuesday at why student enrollment this year fell short of projections, with staff members noting years of growth in county schools may be ending.
School administrators anticipated an increase of almost 1,900 students this year. Instead, enrollment grew by 42 students.
“It would be easy and incorrect to assume that this is a conversation only about market share among charter schools, home schools, private and public schools. It’s a piece of it,” said Cathy Moore, superintendent of the Wake County Public School System.
The school system is still the largest in North Carolina, with about 160,000 students.
During a school board meeting Tuesday, staff members of the county government and school system outlined several reasons why the growth this year fell short of the projection.
The data provided showed an increase in families choosing charter, private and home schooling over the last five years. In addition, the data points to an aging population in Wake County, a decrease in births, as well as a decrease in the number of 5-year-old children, the age at which kids start kindergarten.
Over the next decade, administrators now project school enrollment to increase by about 3,800 students.
“I’m not saying there’s not a market share issue, but it’s a demographic change which is the main thing we see going on with these numbers,” said Dr. Jim Martin, chair of the board of education.
Julie McGinnis, a graduate of public schools in Wake County, said when her family moved back to Raleigh after living in California, she decided to enroll her two kids in Ravenscroft, a private school in Raleigh.
“We wanted to put them in a school we that we knew of, and that they would be stable no matter where we lived,” said McGinnis. “To know that (they would be there) from K all the way through 12 was something that was important to us.”
Student reassignment has proven to be a source of anxiety for some families in Wake County, with groups of parents and kids from different parts of the county pleading with school board members each year not to be moved. The board has voted on a new assignment plan each year as the county builds more schools and aims to ease overcrowding at other schools.
The slowing growth in Wake County comes as school leaders continue to ask voters to approve additional debt for new school construction and renovation of existing schools, with another bond referendum expected in 2020.
“I want the public to recognize that this is not just a defense of, ‘Oh, the numbers are bad. It must be demographics.’ We want to own the issues of market share because we believe Wake County public schools are the best place for education,” said Dr. Martin.