The Investigators: Declining enrollment numbers could mean millions of dollars lost in state education funding

Updated: Sep. 3, 2020 at 9:54 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Dr. Bo Griffin’s optimism is contagious.

He credits his coaching career for the positivity he brings as superintendent of Millington schools.

“As educators we get to change lives every day,” he said. “The greatest thing about Millington is the town and the people.”

The student body has grown in Millington since the school district was formed in 2014.

Dozens of new names were added to the school roster last year.

There are five fewer students this year. That is not a big decrease, but it’s the first time there’s been a drop.

“When you look at the numbers, they had been growing and this year they’re not. That has got to concern you a little bit,” said The Investigators.

“It concerns me but I say the Serenity Prayer every day,” said Dr. Griffin. “My great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother told me every day I gotta know what I can control. The things I can change and the things I can’t.”

State funding for his school district is one of the things under things Griffin can’t change.

That’s up to Tennessee’s Basic Education Program or BEP.

The BEP determines how state education dollars are distributed and the biggest factor is student enrollment.

Concerns over declining student enrollment and attendance have educators and state leaders searching for solutions.

Fewer students means state funding could decrease because education dollars are largely determined by the number of students in class.

Student enrollment was the topic of conversation at a recent meeting of state educators and lawmakers who make up the BEP Review Committee.

“We are losing many of our students right now for different reasons because of the pandemic,” said Dale Lynch, Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents Executive Director.

State education funding is retroactive, student enrollment this year will impact next year’s funding.

With millions in state funding on the line, the committee sent a letter to Governor Bill Lee asking that no school district “experience a reduction” in state funding next year “as a result of a reduction in overall student membership” this academic year.

“Students moving to homeschool and students transferring around virtual education is going to have a huge impact,” said Robin Fairclough, BEP Committee Review Member and Director of Special Programs for Houston County Schools.

Lower enrollment numbers aren’t only a concern in Tennessee.

DeSoto County Schools have lost 850 students so far this year. They have 33,850 students enrolled so far this year compared to 34,700.

A spokesperson wrote The Investigators that “lower enrollments will likely be a statewide issue.”

Their superintendent plans to ask lawmakers to “take this one-time decrease into account as they make funding decisions for the 2021-2022 school year.”

Attendance also matters.

If a student enrolls then never shows up for school, they’ll be dropped from the school roster.

That district’s state funding would also drop, which is a concern for Shelby County Schools.

An SCS spokesperson told The Investigators, student attendance is especially precarious in this virtual world.

Nearly half of Shelby County Schools budget comes from the state. This year it’s set to receive over $650 million, largely based on last year’s enrollment.

School districts will report their first set of enrollment numbers next month.

Bo Griffin will tell you in education, every penny counts and so, every student.

“Educators are miracle workers because every year they do more with less,” he said.

Always the optimist, Griffin sees an opportunity around every corner.

Right now, new houses are springing up across the street from Millington Middle School.

“Me, as a superintendent, I think if I could just get one kid out of there that’s going to make it better for us because the more students we have the more funding but also, the more opportunity we have to make a difference,” he said.

Germantown Schools said it has 65 fewer students this year compared to last.

Collierville said its enrollment is slightly up, by about 20 students.

Bartlett Schools have lost 300 students so far this year.

SCS said it won’t have its final enrollment numbers until October.

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