ELKHART — Student transfers are costing two of Elkhart County’s largest school districts millions in state funding.
Elkhart Community Schools lost $10,232,882 while Goshen Community Schools is seeing a loss of $2,296,272 due to students attending other public districts or participating in the private voucher program.
The latest school transfer report from the Indiana Department of Education lists the number of students leaving their home districts and shows the districts they chose to attend instead for fall of 2019.
Of the seven public school corporations in Elkhart County, Elkhart and Goshen were the only districts that had more students transferring out, the state report shows.
Elkhart Community Schools
A total of 1,922 K-12 students who live within Elkhart Community Schools’ boundaries were enrolled in other school districts this fall, partially offset by the 331 who transferred into the district.
That brings the district’s overall net loss to 1,591, an improvement from the 1,770 students who transferred out of the district the previous year.
Of the 13,865 students residing in the Elkhart district, 1,531 left to attend other public schools or charter schools and 391 transferred to private schools, according to state data.
With regards to private schools, Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said he doesn’t believe those students have much impact on the district’s transfer number as many may have never considered public education.
“Current voucher law allows for those students to receive vouchers through various pathways, for example, siblings in the private school or receiving a Scholarship Granting Organization scholarship,” Thalheimer said. “This means those students have never set foot in a public school. Depending on the family income, the private school voucher can be worth 50 to 90 percent of the tuition support that would have come to us.”
Funding per student for fiscal year 2020 for ECS is about $6,431.73, according to Kevin Scott, chief financial officer for the district.
Taking private schools out of the equation, ECS had a net loss of 1,200 public transfers, resulting in a loss of $7,718,076 in state funding, which school officials say is a more accurate number.
Thalheimer said although the latest transfer numbers aren’t ideal, it is the lowest of the three years that the state has issued transfer reports.
“While we would like to be able to have all resident students attending our schools, if parents are choosing to take advantage of the private school education, that’s a choice they’re welcome to exercise,” he said. “We are glad, however, that we’re seeing our transfers to other public districts decline.”
To keep the number of transfer students on the declining end, Thalheimer said the district will continue to enforce its Elkhart Promise, which states, “Every student is known by name, challenged and supported by highly effective staff, and in partnership with the community, will graduate career/college ready and life ready.”
“The things that we have been working on when I arrived in January are trauma-informed practices and making sure our English learners are being able to create language and literacy rich environments,” he said. “And just working on the professional learning community’s process and valuing everyone that’s in our district, all of those things are geared toward making sure we are meeting the students where they are as they come into our classrooms.”
Goshen Community Schools
Of the 6,990 students that reside within Goshen Community Schools’ boundaries, 748 students were enrolled in other school districts this fall, according to the state report.
Meanwhile, 331 students living outside the corporation boundaries transferred in to attend its schools, translating into a net loss of 414 students – down from the 428 that transferred out the previous year.
According to Kelley Kitchen, executive director of finance at GCS, the district is funded per pupil at an average of $5,548 for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
State data shows that the district lost 470 students to other public schools and 278 to private schools.
To attract and retain students, Superintendent Diane Woodworth said GCS strives to have programs that are appealing to families and students.
“We have an International Baccalaureate programming K-12, we have New Tech, we have a dual language immersion program, we have a CLASS School,” Woodworth said. “We offer many top notch programs. Our high school offers many CTE programs and pathways for students, as well as IB Diploma program, which is the most rigorous high school diploma out there. The graduates of that program report how qualified they are for college.”
More gains, fewer losses
The other five public school corporations in Elkhart County, by contrast, saw more students coming into their district than out, the state report shows.
Concord Community Schools had 5,009 students living within its boundaries in the fall, with 478 enrolled in other districts. But there were 721 transfer-in students, resulting in a net gain of 243.
Assistant Superintendent Scott Kovatch, who oversees the district’s enrollment, said CCS opens enrollment to families from neighboring districts each year. The school board sets caps based on the capacity of the building and existing staffing.
Kovatch said Concord offers quality academic and extracurricular programs to the community, which is what he believes is attracting families to the district.
In addition, for some parents the ability to enroll their child in a school district outside of the community in which they reside is a matter of convenience, he said.
“They might work in the area where their child goes to school or have childcare in a different district,” Kovatch said. “For example, we have staff in our buildings who choose to enroll in our district, even though they live in another city or town.”
Middlebury Community Schools had 4,287 students within its boundaries this fall, with 255 enrolled in other districts; but the corporation had 439 transfer-in students, showing a net increase of 184.
At Wa-Nee Community Schools, there are currently 2,983 students that reside within the district’s boundaries. Of that number, 140 students are enrolled in other districts, while 239 transferred into the district, translating to a net gain of 99.
For Fairfield Community Schools, the total number of students living within its boundaries is 2,107. Of that number, 174 students are enrolled in other districts, while 266 transferred into the district, which comes to a net gain of 92 students.
Lastly, Baugo Community Schools lists 1,985 students enrolled within its boundaries, with 185 enrolled in other districts; but the corporation had 242 transfer-in students, resulting in a net gain of 57.