Milwaukee area schools lose enrollment to virtual school

Schools in the four-county Milwaukee metro area have been hit by a significant decrease in enrollment this year, while virtual charter schools have made gains, according to data released by the state that provides a preliminary head count of all students in public schools.

These districts include Brown Deer, Whitnall, Wauwatosa, and Milwaukee, among others. Suburban school districts saw the biggest losses, in particular Whitnall, which was hit hardest by the decrease with an enrollment decline of 3.39 percent, according to the data. Milwaukee Public Schools continued its declining enrollment trend by losing 1,150 students, or 1.34 percent, from last year.

The decrease in enrollment from public schools comes as the state’s virtual charter schools have been experiencing an increase.

This increase came soon after the state’s decision to extend the open enrollment period, resulting in more than 37,300 students enrolling in schools outside of their districts, according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Christopher Schulteis, the logistics and marketing manager at eAchieve, a tuition-free, public charter school independently operated by the School District of Waukesha, said the increased enrollment in virtual charter schools is based on a variety of factors.

“The expanded open enrollment period gives parents more opportunities to apply,” Schulteis said. “Parents are more aware of the options available because of widespread marketing efforts.”

Another factor leading some parents to choose virtual schools is flexibility, Schulteis said.

“Students choose when, where and at what pace they learn, according to their individual abilities and learning style,” Schulteis said. “In the process, they become responsible for their own learning and develop independent study and technology skills that will be invaluable throughout their life.”

According to the Journal Sentinel, preliminary head counts are important because they determine the amount of state funding a school district receives.

Despite increased enrollment, Schulteis said the lengthening of the open enrollment period has posed challenges for virtual charter schools.

“Not knowing what our student enrollment is likely to be until the end of April makes planning, staffing and budgeting more difficult,” he said.

Twelve of Waukesha’s 19 school districts saw enrollment decrease, including Mukwonago School District, which lost 126 students this year, a 2.6 percent decrease.

Paul Strobel, the superintendent of the Mukwonago School District, said the decrease in enrollment is due mainly to decreasing birthrates in Waukesha.

“The birthrate is down over 10 percent,” he said. “We’re graduating classes of more than 400 students, and we’re bringing in kindergarten classes of fewer than 300 kids.”

Unlike most of the schools in the four-county area, 10 of the 18 Milwaukee County schools actually saw increases in September, including Greenfield, which saw a 2.3 percent increase, and West-Allis, which saw a two percent increase.