CMS braced for a small enrollment slump this year. The head count brought a surprise.

Hough High students pack a recent football game.
Hough High students pack a recent football game.

Note: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools later posted revised enrollment numbers that showed a seven-student decline. Read more here.

Despite increasing competition and talk of a national baby bust, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ forecast of seeing its first-ever enrollment decline proved wrong this year.

The tally for the 20th day of school is 147,719, an increase of 360 students over last year. During budget planning, the district projected it would lose about 200 students, while roughly 1,800 additional Mecklenburg students would sign up for charter schools.

CMS doesn’t yet have a tally of charter enrollment. Those numbers come in school by school, as charter schools bill CMS for their per-pupil share of county education money. Last year about 18,500 Mecklenburg students attended the independent public schools, which can take students across county lines.

The difference between the head count and projections is too small to bring a big budget impact, less than half a percent of total enrollment. It means enrollment has stayed virtually flat for the second year in a row.

The rapid growth in public school enrollment that characterized pre-recession times has leveled off across North Carolina. Charter schools, which topped 100,000 students for the first time last year, accounting for most of the state’s remaining growth, while a majority of North Carolina school districts shrunk last year.

Assistant Superintendent Akeshia Craven-Howell noted larger-than-expected numbers in sixth and ninth grades, especially among students entering Olympic, Myers Park and Vance high schools. She said that could signal that students are returning from charter and private schools at transition grades.

And Craven-Howell noted that several schools that added magnet programs this year saw enrollment grow beyond projections. Those include Long Creek Elementary and Crestdale Middle, which added arts magnets; Quail Hollow Middle, which added a leadership and Paideia program; and Wilson STEM Academy, a new computer science and coding middle school.

However, kindergarten enrollment fell below projections and previous years’ numbers, which could signal a smaller number of children who will move through the system.

The 20th day of school, which came later than expected because of storm closings, is the traditional point for CMS to take its annual snapshot of enrollment. The district has not released school-by-school totals or racial breakdowns.

Nor has the state posted any enrollment reports for 2018-19. With Hurricanes Florence and Michael forcing much longer school closings in coastal counties, statewide tallies are likely to be later than usual.

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Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms