In 18 of 32 combined Rhode Island school districts, enrollment has been falling as a percentage of the population under eighteen. That means families are choosing non-district charter schools, private schools, or home schooling.
As the following chart shows, Cranston and Woonsocket are the only urban districts not losing community buy-in. Among the schools in the urban circle of Providence, a substantial portion of the decrease may have to do with the proliferation of charter schools and other non-district public schools in the area over the last decade. For the 2010-2011 school year, such schools claimed 4,636 students.
The percentages derive from enrollment figures available through the RI Dept. of Education and 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census data for population under 18. The possibility therefore exists that some of the difference may also be explained by an increase of children under 5 (kindergarten) or 18 and above, but still in high school. (Consistent data at the city/town level does not allow for more targeted analysis.)
The effects of these methodological shortcomings, however, are tempered by trends within the state. The population under 5 years old fell in Rhode Island, from 63,896 (6.1% of total population) in 2000 to approximately 56,856 (5.4% of total population). At the state level, therefore, the percentage of children under 18 who are also under 5 notched down from 25.8% to 25.4%.
Note that cities or towns that share a high school are combined as if they are regional, so for example, all data for the Jamestown school district is folded into North Kingstown. In the case of Little Compton, its students and under-18 population are folded into Middletown for the 2000 data and Portsmouth for the 2010 data. The number of students involved, however, is not sufficient to change the picture dramatically.
Also note that the scale on the vertical axis is percentage points. Central Falls’ buy-in dropped from 63.1% of the under-18 population in 2000 to 50.5% in 2010, so its change is counted as 12.6 percentage points. On the other side of the scale, New Shoreham went from 70.3% to 78.5%, for a change of 8.3 percentage points.
For a better sense of how regions of Rhode Island are trending, the following map illustrates the data geographically. A reference for which town is which may be found here. The town lines remain on the map for better comparison with the Current’s other demographic and economic maps, here and here.
It’s interesting, for example, that Tiverton’s median income dropped more precipitously over the decade than in most of the bay-area cities and towns. One might expect a less wealthy population to make more use of the local public schools, not less, because it’s got less disposable income. But Tiverton turns out to have been the only non-urban bay community that saw school buy-in decrease.
|Enrollment % of Population <18|
|Middletown (& LC 2000)||61.8||65.9||4.1|
|Portsmouth (& LC 2010)||66.3||66.8||0.5|