Alabama public school enrollment down, Hispanic student population growing

Enrollment in Alabama’s public schools has declined for the fifth year in a row, to 722,212 statewide, down from 726,924 last year, according to 2018-2019 enrollment numbers posted on the Alabama State Department of Education’s website.

Hispanic students, while representing only 8.4 percent of the student population statewide, are the fastest-growing student group, increasing from 4,012 students in the 1995-1996 school year to 60,976 students statewide during the current school year. That mirrors a national trend showing Hispanic student enrollment is increasing at higher rates than other racial or ethnic student populations.

AL.com took a look at enrollment data for 24 years, from 1995-1996 (the earliest year for which data is available) forward to the current school year. Statewide enrollment over the time period reviewed showed a peak of 741,115 during the 2009-2010 school year.

Some trends in student enrollment follow national trends, though Alabama is one of only a dozen or so states to see continued declines in public school enrollment overall.

During this time period, white student enrollment declined by 14 percent, dropping by 60,000 students, from a high of 456,854 in 1995 to 391,271 for the current school year. White students currently make up 54 percent of the total student population statewide.

Black student enrollment has dropped, too, from a high of 266,138 during the 1997-1998 school year to 234,382 for the current school year, a 12 percent drop. Statewide, black students comprise 32 percent of the student population.

The percentage of Asian students (1.5 percent statewide) and students who identify as two or more races (2.4 percent statewide) are also steadily increasing in public schools.

The percentage of students identifying as American Indian or Alaska native has shown the least variance through the years, accounting for just under 1 percent of the total student population this year.

The chart below shows the number of students of each race or ethnicity enrolled in Alabama’s public schools since the 1995-1996 school year. If the number of students isn’t visible on the bar graph, hover your mouse over that section of the bar. The interactive visualization is best viewed on a tablet or desktop. Click here to open in a new window.

It’s unclear how enrollment in private and homeschools have changed, as Alabama law does not require private schools nor homeschools to report enrollment figures. Traditionally, researchers estimate 10 percent to 11 percent of students are enrolled in private school, and recent research indicates 3 percent to 4 percent of students are homeschooled.

Which districts are growing, and which ones are shrinking?

Alabama has had 11 cities break away from their county district since the 1995-1996 school year, and that naturally had an impact on student enrollment in the counties from which they broke away.

Two public charter schools are now operating—one in Mobile County and one in Sumter County—but only enroll a little more than 500 students between them.

Baldwin County schools have undeniably seen the largest actual student increase, gaining 10,115 students since the 1995-1996 school year. Gulf Shores became the first city to break away from that county, and Baldwin district officials are still grappling with the cost of continued growth in a tax-averse region of the state.

Two city school districts—Auburn City and Saraland City—have seen their student population double, and Saraland has only been in operation since the 2008-2009 school year after breaking away from Mobile County.

City school districts are seeing most of the student growth, but some county school districts, like St. Clair (36 percent increase) and Lee (24 percent increase) are still growing.

Here are the top 10 fastest growing school districts, in percentage growth since either the 1995-1996 school year or the year the district began operating.

2018-2019 1995-1996* percentage gain # students gained
Auburn City 8711 4212 106.8% 4499
Saraland City* 3107 1518 104.7% 1589
Madison City* 11010 5615 96.1% 5395
Eufaula City 5293 3123 69.5% 2170
Vestavia Hills City 7141 4239 68.5% 2902
Albertville City 5510 3273 68.3% 2237
Pike Road City* 1843 1105 66.8% 738
Hoover City 13868 8670 60.0% 5198
Baldwin County 31519 21404 47.3% 10115
Oxford City 3975 2787 42.6% 1188

*Saraland City began operations in 2008-2009, Madison City in 1998-1999, and Pike Road City in 2015-2016.

In contrast, county school districts have shown the largest declines in student population. Of the eight counties that have lost more than half of their students since the 1995-1996 school year, seven are in the Black Belt:

School district 2018-2019 1995-1996 percentage drop # students lost
Barbour County 715 1962 -63.6% -1247
Macon County 1838 4167 -55.9% -2329
Lowndes County 1318 2955 -55.4% -1637
Greene County 1015 2220 -54.3% -1205
Coosa County 857 1849 -53.7% -992
Sumter County 1302 2808 -53.6% -1506
Marengo County 960 2018 -52.4% -1058
Choctaw County 1257 2627 -52.2% -1370

Take a look at the following interactive charts showing student enrollment trends in districts. The first allows you to choose a school district to look at the enrollment history through the current year. Click here to open in a new window.

This is a map of all Alabama’s school districts. Choose a subgroup of students to view student enrollment trends over time. Use the date slider to click through the school years. Click here to open in a new window.

What trends do you see in your neighborhood schools?

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