By SHEILA WANG • Standard-Examiner staff
OGDEN — The number of students attending charter schools has increased sevenfold in 10 years, according to recently posted data from the Utah Board of Education.
Supporters of traditional public schools throughout the U.S are worried about what the rapid development of public charter schools might do to public funding and student populations.
According to the newly-published data, roughly 12 percent of public school students were enrolled in charter schools in 2017-18. In 1999, that figure was only about 4 percent.
To get a better idea of how Utah’s school enrollment has changed since the first charter began operation in 1999, these data visualizations look at trends spanning nearly two decades, and breaks them down by year, school district and school type, then takes a step further to examine race, with a focus on the Ogden School District and the Weber School District.
Hover your cursor or tap over any point on the graphics to get the exact figures.
The above chart shows three populations from 1999-2017: The blue bars show the entire state’s school-aged population, the green and black lines show the state’s public school enrollment and charter school enrollment, respectively.
The state has gained more than 180,000 school-age children in this period of time. The school districts show a slower increase in enrollment while public charter school sector went from just 390 students when it first started operation, to 75,000 students in this school year.
The chart above shows the percent change in enrollment from 2000 to 2017. Breaking the enrollment down by percent difference shows the degree of change over time, making it easier to compare the pace of growth, even if one population is much bigger than the other.
Charter schools experienced an explosive level of growth between 2001 to 2002 and then for the next 10 years, slowed down to an annual growth rate between about 6 percent and 15 percent. By contrast, traditional public schools maintained a flat growth rate — around 1 percent — despite the rapid growth of the school-age population in Utah.
To get a closer look at how the enrollment in public charter schools grew over the years, the chart above shows the exact numbers of students attending charter schools in the state from 1999 to 2017.
Ogden saw heavy residential growth in the last few years. Typically, when the population grows, so does the number of children enrolled in the public schools. Both Weber district schools and charter schools countywide have experienced noticeable enrollment growth, as the area chart below shows.
For the Ogden School District, however, it’s a different story.
“The school district is aware that the enrollment is in decline,” said Jer Bates, spokesman for the district. The area chart below shows Ogden’s district lost more than 800 students from the 2012-13 school year to 2017-18 — about half of that exodus happened between last school year and this one.
Weber School District and public charter schools in Weber County gained more than 1,200, and more than 2,500 students, respectively, in the same timeframe.
There doesn’t appear to be a singular reason for the decline in student enrollment in the Ogden district, Bates said.
Some students went to area charter schools, some chose to go to the Weber district and some families moved out of the Ogden district.
“We can’t control where the parents choose to live or where they take their families to,” the spokesman said.
“The reality is that people tend to be drawn to something newer,” Bates said, attributing some of the loss in students the older buildings in the Ogden district.
The Ogden School District data shows that more than half of the 20 schools in the district were built in the 1950s or earlier. The oldest one, Polk Elementary, was built in 1927.
Though newer than school buildings in the Ogden district, roughly a third of Weber district schools at least 50 years old, according to data provided by the Weber district.
“Newer schools, especially with new technology, are certainly nice and appealing,” said Lane Findlay, Weber School District spokesman. “But what makes a difference is the people in the schools.”
Though Ogden district is losing more students to charter schools and other school districts, it has maintained a high percentage of minority students.
The chart below shows the population distribution by race in the Ogden and Weber districts, charter schools in Weber County and the state’s average.
As one of the most racially diversified counties in Utah, Weber County has the second-highest concentration of Latinos in the state, according to a previous Standard-Examiner report.
As this bar chart above shows, public school students in the Ogden District were significantly more diversified than the state overall. In the 2017-18 school year, roughly 51 percent of students in the Ogden District was Hispanic, while only 42 percent was white. In contrast, the Weber district and the statewide charter schools had a much lower percentage of Hispanic students, 12 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
Diversity is what makes the Ogden district unique, Bates said, and that the district is dedicated to creating equal opportunities for all children.
This trend line shows students leaving the Ogden district in the past several years is predominantly white.
In fact, losses in the Ogden district would be even greater if it wasn’t for Hispanic and Latino student enrollment. While more than 850 white students left, the net loss is only 838 because of incoming students of color.
But that might be changing, too.
Starting with the 2016-17 school year, data shows more than 200 Hispanic students left the district, accounting for half of the total loss in enrollment for the year.
Coincidentally, the Weber district gained 862 white students in the same period of time, as the trend lines above show. And the Weber district has attracted more white students than Hispanic students.
Although the growing trend is not as noticeable due to the big base number, the Weber district saw enrollment growth in both Hispanic and white students to varying extents.
“The enrollment growth in the Weber School District is mostly related to the economic expansion,” Findlay said.
The southwest and the northwest areas of the Weber district have seen the most economic and student growth in recent years. Findlay said enrollment is expected to continue as non-Ogden Weber County continues to develop.
Below is an interactive map featuring the enrollment details of all the public schools - traditional or charter - within the Weber County boundary in the 2016-2017 school year. The bigger the orange bubble looks, the bigger the total enrollment is. Click on the bubbles to get the specific information for each public school.
Contact Reporter Sheila Wang at 801-625-4252 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SheilaWang7.