Skip to content

Earlier this week, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction published the final 2015-16 student counts for all district and charter schools. I used Average Daily Membership (ADM) data to determine which districts had the largest changes in enrollment over the last five school years.

As one would expect, Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg had the largest numerical increases, adding 10,690 and 8,428 students, respectively. Cabarrus, Union, and Johnston counties rounded out the top five gainers.  At the other end of the spectrum, Cumberland, Edgecombe, Buncombe, Nash-Rocky Mount, and Halifax lost the largest number of students.

Given variations in the size of districts in North Carolina, however, simple numerical changes can be misleading.  Percentage change is a much more useful measure. Asheville City Schools had the largest percentage change in enrollment (+10.5 percent), followed by Mooresville Graded School District (+8.5 percent) and Pender County Schools (+8.0 percent). Cabarrus and Wake counties were not far behind.

The six districts with the largest decreases are located in the northeast region of the state. Halifax County Schools lost nearly one-quarter of their student enrollment over the last five school years. Northampton, Edgecombe, Bertie, Martin, and Weldon City Schools all had double-digit percentage decreases.

District Number District Name 2015-16 Final ADM 2011-12 Final ADM ADM Difference Percentage Change Percentage Change Rank
 010 Alamance-Burlington Schools 22,600  22,141  459 2.1% 29
 020 Alexander County Schools 4,943  5,367  (424) -7.9% 103
 030 Alleghany County Schools 1,376  1,428  (52) -3.6% 73
 040 Anson County Schools 3,415  3,699  (284) -7.7% 102
 050 Ashe County Schools 3,066  3,103  (37) -1.2% 49
 060 Avery County Schools 2,064  2,125  (61) -2.9% 69
 070 Beaufort County Schools 6,836  6,847  (11) -0.2% 38
 080 Bertie County Schools 2,280  2,666  (386) -14.5% 112
 090 Bladen County Schools 4,630  5,046  (416) -8.2% 104
 100 Brunswick County Schools 12,369  12,026  343 2.9% 22
 110 Buncombe County Schools 24,305  25,260  (955) -3.8% 77
 111 Asheville City Schools 4,396  3,978  418 10.5% 1
 120 Burke County Schools 12,360  12,907  (547) -4.2% 81
 130 Cabarrus County Schools 31,260  29,023  2,237 7.7% 4
 132 Kannapolis City Schools 5,310  5,136  174 3.4% 18
 140 Caldwell County Schools 11,964  12,333  (369) -3.0% 70
 150 Camden County Schools 1,800  1,891  (91) -4.8% 86
 160 Carteret County Public Schools 8,246  8,336  (90) -1.1% 46
 170 Caswell County Schools 2,689  2,824  (135) -4.8% 85
 180 Catawba County Schools 16,333  17,001  (668) -3.9% 78
 181 Hickory City Schools 4,258  4,337  (79) -1.8% 55
 182 Newton Conover City Schools 3,088  2,912  176 6.0% 9
 190 Chatham County Schools 8,436  7,938  498 6.3% 7
 200 Cherokee County Schools 3,329  3,335  (6) -0.2% 39
 210 Edenton-Chowan Schools 2,049  2,250  (201) -8.9% 106
 220 Clay County Schools 1,302  1,325  (23) -1.7% 52
 230 Cleveland County Schools 14,906  15,481  (575) -3.7% 75
 240 Columbus County Schools 5,883  6,333  (450) -7.1% 100
 241 Whiteville City Schools 2,223  2,249  (26) -1.2% 48
 250 Craven County Schools 14,004  14,743  (739) -5.0% 88
 260 Cumberland County Schools 49,918  51,077  (1,159) -2.3% 62
 270 Currituck County Schools 3,966  3,873  93 2.4% 26
 280 Dare County Schools 4,944  4,829  115 2.4% 27
 290 Davidson County Schools 19,166  19,967  (801) -4.0% 80
 291 Lexington City Schools 3,008  3,009  (1) 0.0% 36
 292 Thomasville City Schools 2,375  2,417  (42) -1.7% 5
 300 Davie County Schools 6,265  6,423  (158) -2.5% 64
 310 Duplin County Schools 9,690  9,158  532 5.8% 12
 320 Durham Public Schools 33,144  32,332  812 2.5% 24
 330 Edgecombe County Public Schools 5,953  6,982  (1,029) -14.7% 113
 340 Winston Salem/Forsyth County Schools 53,947  52,205  1,742 3.3% 19
 350 Franklin County Schools 8,405  8,526  (121) -1.4% 51
 360 Gaston County Schools 31,285  30,704  581 1.9% 30
 370 Gates County Schools 1,612  1,778  (166) -9.3% 108
 380 Graham County Schools 1,152  1,176  (24) -2.0% 59
 390 Granville County Schools 7,868  8,505  (637) -7.5% 101
 400 Greene County Schools 3,141  3,174  (33) -1.0% 45
 410 Guilford County Schools 71,429  71,587  (158) -0.2% 40
 420 Halifax County Schools 2,732  3,604  (872) -24.2% 115
 421 Roanoke Rapids City Schools 2,864  2,983  (119) -4.0% 79
 422 Weldon City Schools 883  1,003  (120) -12.0% 110
 430 Harnett County Schools 20,252  19,378  874 4.5% 14
 440 Haywood County Schools 7,134  7,530  (396) -5.3% 90
 450 Henderson County Schools 13,506  13,197  309 2.3% 28
 460 Hertford County Schools 2,884  3,030  (146) -4.8% 87
 470 Hoke County Schools 8,300  7,962  338 4.2% 15
 480 Hyde County Schools 584  570  14 2.5% 25
 490 Iredell-Statesville Schools 20,643  21,239  (596) -2.8% 68
 491 Mooresville Graded School District 6,020  5,546  474 8.5% 2
 500 Jackson County Schools 3,685  3,538  147 4.2% 16
 510 Johnston County Schools 34,452  32,514  1,938 6.0% 10
 520 Jones County Schools 1,077  1,099  (22) -2.0% 58
 530 Lee County Schools 9,981  9,650  331 3.4% 17
 540 Lenoir County Public Schools 8,846  9,006  (160) -1.8% 54
 550 Lincoln County Schools 11,410  11,726  (316) -2.7% 66
 560 Macon County Schools 4,341  4,305  36 0.8% 33
 570 Madison County Schools 2,374  2,524  (150) -5.9% 94
 580 Martin County Schools 3,218  3,689  (471) -12.8% 111
 590 McDowell County Schools 6,183  6,377  (194) -3.0% 71
 600 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools 145,444  137,016  8,428 6.2% 8
 610 Mitchell County Schools 1,868  2,037  (169) -8.3% 105
 620 Montgomery County Schools 3,950  4,137  (187) -4.5% 83
 630 Moore County Schools 12,769  12,371  398 3.2% 20
 640 Nash-Rocky Mount Schools 15,415  16,330  (915) -5.6% 92
 650 New Hanover County Schools 25,901  24,464  1,437 5.9% 11
 660 Northampton County Schools 1,842  2,206  (364) -16.5% 114
 670 Onslow County Schools 25,702  24,161  1,541 6.4% 6
 680 Orange County Schools 7,501  7,299  202 2.8% 23
 681 Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools 11,965  11,905  60 0.5% 35
 690 Pamlico County Schools 1,278  1,367  (89) -6.5% 97
 700 Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools 5,739  5,792  (53) -0.9% 43
 710 Pender County Schools 8,923  8,261  662 8.0% 3
 720 Perquimans County Schools 1,684  1,708  (24) -1.4% 50
 730 Person County Schools 4,570  4,776  (206) -4.3% 82
 740 Pitt County Schools 23,239  23,068  171 0.7% 34
 750 Polk County Schools 2,169  2,291  (122) -5.3% 91
 760 Randolph County Schools 17,460  18,309  (849) -4.6% 84
 761 Asheboro City Schools 4,648  4,683  (35) -0.7% 41
 770 Richmond County Schools 7,343  7,555  (212) -2.8% 67
 780 Public Schools of Robeson County 23,240  23,476  (236) -1.0% 44
 790 Rockingham County Schools 12,591  13,388  (797) -6.0% 95
 800 Rowan-Salisbury Schools 19,525  19,916  (391) -2.0% 57
 810 Rutherford County Schools 8,169  8,672  (503) -5.8% 93
 820 Sampson County Schools 8,371  8,436  (65) -0.8% 42
 821 Clinton City Schools 3,047  2,956  91 3.1% 21
 830 Scotland County Schools 5,818  6,046  (228) -3.8% 76
 840 Stanly County Schools 8,514  8,836  (322) -3.6% 74
 850 Stokes County Schools 6,135  6,791  (656) -9.7% 109
 860 Surry County Schools 8,118  8,320  (202) -2.4% 63
 861 Elkin City Schools 1,193  1,182  11 0.9% 32
 862 Mount Airy City Schools 1,594  1,631  (37) -2.3% 61
 870 Swain County Schools 1,896  1,917  (21) -1.1% 47
 880 Transylvania County Schools 3,440  3,504  (64) -1.8% 56
 890 Tyrrell County Schools 577  568  9 1.6% 31
 900 Union County Public Schools 41,873  39,654  2,219 5.6% 13
 910 Vance County Schools 6,296  6,757  (461) -6.8% 99
 920 Wake County Schools 156,612  145,922  10,690 7.3% 5
 930 Warren County Schools 2,238  2,386  (148) -6.2% 96
 940 Washington County Schools 1,528  1,681  (153) -9.1% 107
 950 Watauga County Schools 4,297  4,392  (95) -2.2% 60
 960 Wayne County Public Schools 18,505  19,144  (639) -3.3% 72
 970 Wilkes County Schools 9,568  9,812  (244) -2.5% 65
 980 Wilson County Schools 12,072  12,086  (14) -0.1% 37
 990 Yadkin County Schools 5,325  5,699  (374) -6.6% 98
 995 Yancey County Schools 2,198  2,318  (120) -5.2% 89

 

These enrollment trends are critical.

Districts with growing student populations often encounter multiple challenges. They must build new schools, expand transportation services, hire additional personnel, and procure instructional materials and technology to cover legally mandated services for incoming students. While growing districts receive federal and state funds that offset a portion of these costs, county commissions may struggle to accommodate demands by school boards for a larger share of local tax revenue. Displeased and disenfranchised taxpayers may also spurn efforts by elected officials to borrow millions of dollars for school facility projects, raise taxes, or reduce spending on other locally funded services.

On the other hand, shrinking districts may lose state and federal funding tied to enrollment, as well as local dollars tied to residents. While these districts also have fewer students to educate, the loss of revenue makes it increasingly difficult for district officials to attend to fixed costs, such as school buildings and school buses. In addition, these districts may struggle to support supplementary instruction, enrichment programs, and extracurricular activities.

Policy responses to enrollment changes vary. Clearly, there is no silver bullet. One option is to modify the funding formula to ensure that districts with consistent and sizable enrollment decreases receive sufficient dollars for fixed costs. But such a policy would be a disservice to growing districts. After all, they could also make a strong case that they should also receive a targeted allotment to address facilities or infrastructure needs.

Elected officials may also mandate that districts consolidate schools or merge with a city system or a neighboring county district. Those options appear to be fiscally and educationally sensible for some districts. According to state law, those decisions are within the purview of local governments. Incentivizing districts to consolidate schools or merge with others would be the only viable option for state lawmakers. Even that is unlikely to work – consolidations and mergers are widely unpopular.

Dr. Terry Stoops

Dr. Terry Stoops is Director of Research and Education Studies for the John Locke Foundation.