Enrollment drops in Pinellas County public schools
Pinellas County's public school population has dropped below 101,000.
The district recently released its 10-day count of public school enrollments by grade. This year, 100,680 students in Kindergarten through 12th grade are enrolled in public school, including charter schools. That's down from last year's count of 101,043, continuing the overall decline in enrollment.
District officials noted that while Pinellas' overall enrollment is down, traditional public schools saw an increase of 583 students while enrollment in charter schools decreased by 363 students. That makes sense, as two charter schools folded and the district absorbed another charter school this year, displacing more than 1,200 students out of charter schools.
After years of enrollment gains, the number of students attending charter schools may flatten out. This is the second year the Pinellas County charter school office has no applications to review to open new charter schools.
It's possible that students who attended those charter schools that closed or were absorbed fled to private schools, possibly with the help of a Florida tax credit scholarship program. One of those programs, Step Up for Students, announced a record amount of scholarships granted to children from low-income families throughout the state. Participation increased 16.8 percent in Pinellas, with 3,428 students benefiting from a scholarship.
Those tax credit programs have been heralded as a "game-changer" by Chris Pastura, the superintendent of schools operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay area's second-largest school system after public schools. The diocese, which operates 47 schools with nearly 12,500 students from Pinellas up to Citrus County, has seen a 0.3 percent increase in enrollment, and 11 to 12 percent of those students use Step Up.
UPDATE 8/26/16: Step Up for Students issued revised data on Friday, saying the overall numbers were accurate but some county figures were miscalculated.