Count Day Matters…A Lot

Today is an important day in the annual cycle of Iowa public schools.  October 1 is our official student count day, and that means every public school district in Iowa is taking a count of students enrolled in their schools.  We are required to take this count today, and then to certify our enrollment with the Iowa Department of Education October 15.

The reason today is so important is because Iowa public school funding is driven by a per pupil funding formula.  In other words, we build our annual budget one student at a time.  Our budget for the 2019-2020 school year is based on the enrollment we certified last fall, October 15, 2018.  Our Served Enrollment last October was 1,692.2.  The served enrollment is a combination of our students who live in the Decorah Community School District boundary and attend one of our schools, open enrolled and tuitioned-in students attending one of our schools, and dual-enrolled homeschool students.

Decorah CSD certifies our enrollment with the Iowa Department of Education annually. Student enrollment is the primary driver of our annual funding.

As we take our count this year, we are establishing the Served Enrollment number that will generate our budget for the 2020-2021 school year.  When the time comes for our board to approve the 2020-2021 budget, we are required by Iowa Code to multiply our enrollment by $6900.00.  That $6900.00 is the Iowa Per Pupil District Cost, and it is generated annually by the Iowa Legislature.  The table below shows how the Iowa Per Pupil District Cost has changed over the past 20 years.

Iowa public school budgets are built through a formula established by Iowa Code. Annual student enrollment and per pupil cost are essential elements of the formula.

Iowa superintendents and school boards pay close attention to whether the annual enrollment numbers for their school district are declining, increasing, or holding stable because this trend is directly tied to whether the annual budget will increase, decrease, or remain stable.  Over the past 20 to 25 years, most Iowa school districts have experienced declining enrollment trends.  This is the primary driver of the consolidation of school districts across our state.  For example, in 2000 there were 374 school districts across Iowa, and today there are 327.

There are school districts in Iowa that are experiencing drastic growth in enrollment.  In the recent past, school districts in the Des Moines metro area, and the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids corridor have seen annual enrollment growth into the hundreds of students each year.

In Decorah, we have experienced stable enrollment over the past five years.  If you look closely at the annual enrollment chart above, you will notice our certified enrollment, or students who live in our school district boundary has decrease 2.4% over the past five years.  The stability in our served enrollment exists because of growth in the number of students open enrolled into Decorah Schools from other school districts.  The map below captures trends in enrollment changes across Iowa over the past five years.

Most Iowa school districts have seen declining enrollment over the past five years.

Today, Count Day, is a critical day in our budgeting and planning cycle.  Our  official Served Enrollment will generate about $25 million for the 2020-2021 school year.  The Decorah CSD Board of Education, our Director of Business Services, Cathy Dietzenbach, and I are committed to serving as highly effective stewards of taxpayer money.  Part of that work is open and transparent communication.  If you have questions regarding school finance, or annual budgeting in Decorah, don’t hesitate to reach out.  I am always happy to talk Iowa school finance.