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Why is enrollment declining in Boise Schools?

Student Enrollment is on a downward trend in Boise Schools and has been even prior to COVID despite massive population growth in the Treasure Valley..

The enrollment for the 21/22 school year (page 18) was projected to be around 23,800 (image above) but, as of May 2022, was actually 23,362.

That’s nearly 500 fewer students than in December 2020 and roughly 500 fewer students than predicted, showing that students have continued to leave even after the steep decline in Summer 2020 when the District lost roughly 1600 students.

All this, despite massive population growth in the Treasure Valley (see image below):

Boise, ID population:

2017 226,570

2020 235,684

2021 237,446

The above population statistics correspond to a Boise City population increase of almost 5% since 2017 (when BSD had peak enrollment), but a Boise School District enrollment decrease of roughly 11% during the same time period. If school enrollment tracked with population growth, BSD would be sitting at roughly 27,400 students, not 23,000 students.

Why is this? Why is the Boise School District losing so many students even though the population is booming in Boise? In an attempt to attract students back to Boise Schools, the District has chosen to spend $500k of taxpayer funds since 2019 (Idaho Ed News stories here and here) on a marketing campaign. According to the Board update in September 2021, the marketing campaign targets affluent families who can afford to make other educational choices for their children. This marketing campaign includes, but is not limited to, social media posts/ads, promotional videos, photos, radio ads, and a new logo.

In a 10-question survey by Idaho Ed News, many of the candidates point to the cost of living increases pushing families with school-aged children out of Boise while the increase in Boise population is primarily due to people relocating who do not have school-aged children. According to the American Community Survey obtained via public records request through the Idaho Department of Labor, the percent population ages 5-19 in Boise has decreased by roughly 1% since 2017.

While a 1% decline in the population of school-aged children in Boise certainly is a factor in the declining enrollment and should be considered, it only accounts for a minor decrease in enrollment. If Boise’s enrollment tracked both with the increase in Boise population AND the decrease in school-aged children, Boise would have had roughly 25,687 students enrolled last school year, as opposed to 23,362 (per the May 2022 enrollment report) which is 9% lower than expected.

What’s missing? The Boise School District is talking about advertising via various platforms to attract families and tell their story. They are also noticing a decrease in the population of school-aged children in Boise, which is accurate, but also overstated as it would only account for an enrollment decline of 2%, but total enrollment is down 11%. What about the other 9% of families who’ve left in the past few years?

What we believe is missing in the conversation at the District and Board level is WHY are these students leaving and WHAT CAN BOISE SCHOOLS DO DIFFERENTLY to hopefully attract some of these students back and prevent others from leaving? We believe it would be a far better use of funds to reach out to those who are making other educational choices to find out WHY they’re choosing something else, WHAT the other options offer that Boise doesn’t, actually LISTEN to what they’re saying and be willing to make some changes. We believe Boise School District should also reach out to its enrolled families to ask if they’re happy, where they’re not happy, what they could be doing better/differently and, again, LISTEN to what people are saying and be willing to make some changes especially if the things that are upsetting people are new in the past few years. The same goes for staff (with assurance that the District will not retaliate against anyone who submits a negative review).... why are they leaving, are the current staff happy and, if not, what needs to change?

It’s true the District administers engagement and satisfaction surveys, but are those surveys asking the right questions? Do they really seek to find out where the schools and District can improve or where parents and staff are not satisfied? What does the District do with those survey responses after they are received? Are the answers and comments from the surveys used to inform potential policy or large operational decisions?

Obviously there is a reason for the decline in enrollment and we’d like to see the District do some real work to find out WHY people are leaving, WHAT they can do differently to attract families back and keep currently enrolled families from leaving. We don’t want families to be stuck in Boise schools, we want them to choose to be in Boise schools and to be happy there.

On September 6, choose trustee candidates who will ask these tough questions, seek parent and staff input and include them in the process, provide proper District oversight and work to make Boise schools a place where more families and staff WANT to be.


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