After bottoming out in the wake of the August 2016 floods, overall enrollment in East Baton Rouge Parish public schools has rebounded. But new students are largely headed to district-sponsored charter schools, including four that have opened since the floods, while traditional schools continue their longstanding decline.
Comparing the 15th day of school this year — Aug. 28 — with the 15th day of school last year, enrollment is down at more than half of the district's traditional schools. Meanwhile enrollment is up, in some cases substantially, at 7 out of 10 of the district’s Type 1 charter schools.
These comparisons are based on unofficial counts. Official enrollment counts for the 2019-20 school year won’t occur until Oct. 1 and Feb. 1.
Thanks to the creation of four new charter schools, East Baton Rouge Parish public schools collectively have more students this year than they…
There are 26 charter schools — district and independent — in East Baton Rouge Parish.
While overall enrollment at traditional high schools in Baton Rouge has remained steady through the years, most local high schools are seeing enrollment slip. In the past year, these decreases have ranged from less than 2 percent at the largest high school, Baton Rouge Magnet High, to 13 percent at Belaire High.
The exceptions are Istrouma, Lee and Woodlawn high schools. All three have growing magnet programs. Lee and Istrouma, in particular, have been in expansion mode, adding grades and students since reopening in 2012 and 2017, respectively. Woodlawn High’s growth has all been in the past two years, 243 students, and the bulk of that growth is in the past year.
In some cases, one school’s gain is another’s loss.
Belaire High’s attendance zone shrank in 2017 and those students now attend the reopened Istrouma. Other traditional high schools that surround the reopened Istrouma have seen their enrollments decline, including Broadmoor, Glen Oaks, McKinley Scotlandville and Tara high schools.
Belaire is the only one of these high schools with a bigger ninth grade this year than last year.
Glen Oaks has more than offset its high school losses by an infusion of 238 middle school students from the closing of nearby North Banks Middle. And Glen Oaks has outdone North Banks by more than 100 students, suggesting that relocating the middle school to the high school campus is proving a draw.
Glen Oaks High’s addition of middle school students is part of an intentional shift away from grade 6-8 middle schools.
“We’re actually moving towards a K-8 model in East Baton Rouge,” said Superintendent Warren Drake at an Aug. 23 luncheon speech. “And in some cases, a 6-12 model.”
Meanwhile, charter schools, once rare at the high school level, are growing more common and promise to become big competitors with traditional high schools.
The newest one, GEO Next Generation High School, which opened last month, has about 100 students. Collegiate Academies, which opened in 2017 and moved into a new facility last month, has more than 400 students.
Overall, 41,674 students were enrolled on Aug. 28 at 81 schools overseen by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. That’s 471 more students than a year ago and 725 students more than on Oct. 1, 2016, the first official count after the devastating flooding that year.
When you remove the district’s 10 Type 1 charter schools, the picture changes. Enrollment in traditional schools has declined by 1.1 percent in the past year and 2.4 percent since the floods, while Type 1 charter schools have grown by 24 percent in the past year and by 58 percent since the floods.
Three charter schools, which all opened in fall 2018, account for most of that increase: BASIS Baton Rouge, IDEA Bridge and IDEA Innovation. The three schools combined report 868 more students than at the same time a year ago. These schools were recruited to come to Baton Rouge because of strong track records and high college attendance rates in Arizona and Texas where they originated.
The two IDEA schools, both run by Texas-based IDEA Public Schools, are the biggest of the three: IDEA Bridge, next to Cortana Mall, has 822 students in seven grades, while IDEA Innovation, southeast of LSU near Gardere Lane, has 598 students in six grades.
After lengthy debates, two charter school groups, BASIS.ed and Helix Community Schools, won permission Thursday to open new schools in Baton Rouge.
BASIS Baton Rouge, next to Woman’s Hospital, has 529 students in six grades. BASIS, however, is full. It had the largest kindergarten and first grades of any school in the parish, with 132 students in each grade. And another 521 students expressed interest in enrolling this year but couldn't.
The fast popularity of the school compelled the parish School Board in May to grant Arizona-based BASIS a charter to start a second school in Baton Rouge in 2020, but that may take longer than that.
"We have not found the ideal location for campus #2, but we continue to assess options,” said Head of School Roberto Ramirez. "Current expansion efforts are focused on the continued development of the Woman’s (Hospital) campus to serve additional students as we grow to a full K-12."
BASIS is planning to get into the high school marketplace in 2023 and its first graduating class is set for 2027. The two IDEA schools plan to have high schools up and running by 2021 and their first graduating classes in 2025.
Four more charter schools, including some that have yet to open, plan to add high schools in the future as well.
Plans, however, don’t always become reality. Two recently closed charter schools, Apex and Baton Rouge College Prep, had charters that allowed them to start high schools, but they postponed and later canceled those growth plans, eventually surrendering their contracts.
Editor's note: This article was changed on Wednesday, Sept. 4, to inset the correct enrollment decline figures for traditional high schools in East Baton Rouge Parish. A chart originally attached to the story was also corrected.