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Advocate file photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system, while still one of the largest public school districts in Louisiana, is experiencing a drop in student enrollment for the third year in a row, though at a slower rate than in the past.

That's the bottom line finding from the latest official state enrollment count, taken on Oct. 1. The school system has not only failed to regain students it lost in the wake of the August 2016 flood but is losing additional students.

Baker and Central, which were also hit with severe flooding, have continued to lose students since the flood as well although at much slower rates. Baker is down 63 students from fall 2016 while Central is down 30 students.

Livingston Parish, which saw its enrollment drop by 2.2 percent right after the flood, grew slightly this year. However, it is still well below pre-flood levels and several of its schools are also down significantly from pre-flood levels.

Only Ascension Parish public schools have seen their enrollment grow both pre-flood and post-flood. The school district grew despite having five schools that flooded 17 months ago. Its enrollment is up about 1.3 percent compared to year ago and 1.6 percent since 2015.

The Oct. 1 enrollment count has been audited by the state and was quietly released in late December. A second official count is set for Feb. 1, and the state will again audit the numbers before releasing them.

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system reported 40,696 students enrolled on Oct. 1, 2017. That’s 253 fewer than the year before.

The rate of decline has slowed and is about a fourth of what the school system experienced in the immediate aftermath of the flood. But it’s part of a longer downward trend that began in fall 2014 when enrollment last peaked at 42,618 students. Since then, East Baton Rouge’s enrollment has decreased by 4.6 percent.

The parish school system has been seeing a decline in enrollment for decades. It had its highest enrollment in the late 1970s, with nearly 70,000 students.

Enrollment numbers calculated Oct. 1 and Feb. 1 drive the vast majority of the funding Louisiana provides public schools via the state’s Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP. If enrollment numbers for East Baton Rouge aren't higher on Feb. 1, the school system stands to lose more than $1 million in state funding.

Even with the declines, East Baton Rouge continues to have more students in its classrooms than Caddo Parish, where Shreveport is located. Caddo Parish has seen its own enrollment decline by 3.7 percent in the past three years.

Jefferson Parish remains Louisiana's largest school district and it’s growing, albeit slowly. It had 49,328 students enrolled Oct. 1, which is 8,632 more than East Baton Rouge.

The Orleans Parish School Board comes in second in this year’s student enrollment rankings with a total of 46,080 students, pushing East Baton Rouge down to third place.

Orleans has been missing from the rankings since 2005 when the state took over most Orleans Parish public schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In its place, the state created a new array of independent charter schools.

In 2016, those charter schools began returning to the local control of the Orleans Parish School Board, a process that is still ongoing. The state is now counting all those schools in Orleans’ overall numbers.

Enrollment in charter schools accounts for 89 percent of the students that the Orleans school district claimed on Oct. 1. By contrast, only about 7 percent of the students in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system attend charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools run privately via charters, or contracts.

The percentage of students in charter schools in Baton Rouge is set to grow.

The school system has approved a handful of new charters schools, so-called Type 1 charters, that will start opening in 2018.

The biggest new charter group is Rio Grande Valley, Texas-based IDEA Public School. IDEA is building two schools that are set to open in August, one in north Baton Rouge and the other in south Baton Rouge. They plan to open with about 465 students each in 2018; IDEA’s contract allows it to eventually educate almost 7,400 students in Baton Rouge.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.