Public school enrollment in Iowa and Nebraska is up slightly this year. For Iowa, it's the first increase in 17 years.
In both states, the increases came primarily in urban areas. Rural school enrollment continues to fall.
Of Nebraska's 93 counties, the three most populous — Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster — are home to more than half of the state's school-age children, according to Nebraska Education Commissioner Roger Breed.
“That's pretty telling,” he said.
Iowa's statewide uptick to 476,245 public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade is “refreshing news” after years of declining enrollment, said Jay Pennington, chief of the Iowa Department of Education's Bureau of Information and Analysis.
The small bump — 0.6 percent — will most likely be temporary, however, as long-term trends show rural areas continuing to lose students, Pennington said.
Iowa officials said the increase was partially caused by an upsurge in births from 2003 to 2008.
About half of Iowa's 348 school districts reported an enrollment increase, primarily in pockets of growth in the urban and suburban areas of the state, Pennington said.
For the Council Bluffs Community Schools, however, a downward trend continued. The district now has 8,945 students, down about 100 from last year and down about 1,000 from the 2000-01 school year.
Diane Ostrowski, district spokeswoman, said officials are encouraged by a consultant's forecast that enrollment should stabilize by 2016-17.
The district's enrollment has been affected by a lack of new housing and by transfers of students to other districts through open enrollment, she said.
“There isn't a lot of new housing in our community to spark a growth in new student enrollment,” Ostrowski said. “We're fairly landlocked in terms of the river to one end and neighboring districts on the other two or three corners of our district.”
In Nebraska, enrollment grew by about 0.75 percent, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.
Breed said the increase in public school enrollment isn't coming out of private schools or home schools, because those numbers have remained consistent, but reflects more school-age children in Nebraska. The number of children age 19 and younger grew by about 17,000 between 2007 and 2011, Breed said.
From 2000 to 2010, the increase in the number of school-age children occurred almost exclusively in eight of Nebraska's counties.
Over the past decade, the number of schoolkids in rural Cherry and Antelope Counties declined 27.6 percent and 12.2 percent, respectively. Urban Douglas and Lancaster Counties, meanwhile, saw increases of 11.8 percent and 13.8 percent.
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|2012-13 school district enrollment|
Council Bluffs Community Schools: 8,945, down from 9,033 last year. The district had nearly 10,000 students in 2000-01.
Iowa: Up 0.6 percent to 476,245
Nebraska: Up 0.75 percent to 303,242
Sources: Nebraska and Iowa Departments of Education