DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) The number of students enrolled in Iowa public schools jumped significantly this school year, state Department of Education data released Thursday shows.
The department said an overall rise of 0.6 percent for the 2012-13 school year was the first significant increase since 1996, although overall enrollment has dropped over the last five years.
The jump is due to higher birth rates from 2003 to 2008, education officials said. Jay Pennington, chief of the agency's Bureau of Information and Analysis, said he expects a few more years of increased enrollment before it slows.
"This is great news for large parts of the state, that over the last 17 years have been in a free fall," he said.
There are pockets of enrollment growth in urban and suburban areas, but long-term trends show rural areas continue to have declining enrollment, Pennington said. That could be due to a national trend of more people moving away from rural areas, he said.
This school year there are 476,245 students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in public schools statewide. That's about 2,700 students more than last school year. About half of the state's 348 school districts reported an increase, while the other half reported a decrease. Only a few reported no enrollment change.
The districts in Waukee, Des Moines and Ankeny, in central Iowa, reported the largest enrollment jump.
The new data will give the state and district officials a better understanding of why some communities are growing and what the incentive is for the families who have chosen to live or stay in those communities, Pennington said.
"Certainly, it helps in a number of different areas in terms of planning," he said.
Enrollment peaked at 645,000 students during the 1972-73 school year, and it has been declining for years. Over the last five years, overall enrollment fell by 0.16 percent, with more than 65 percent of districts reporting a decrease in enrollment over that period.
The certified enrollment count is taken in October of each school year. It helps determine state funding for the schools.