School District of La Crosse has significant decrease in enrollment this academic year

LA CROSSE COUNTY, Wi. (WEAU)-- "Sixty percent of the school districts in the state have declining enrollment and that's true for the School District of La Crosse," said Randy Nelson, the School District of La Crosse Superintendent of Schools.

It wasn't a surprise for the School District of La Crosse to drop in enrollment this year.

According to the Superintendent, they were expecting to see a decrease of around 100 students after a big graduating class and knowledge of a smaller incoming kindergarten class. However, the actual decrease ended up being much larger.

"Last year compared to this year we actually saw a decrease of 211 students which is the most we've seen perhaps ever or at least for a long time," Nelson said.

They attribute that decrease to students graduating as well as switching to private schools through vouchers.

However, the biggest change came not from students switching districts through open enrollment, but choosing a newer alternative all together.

"We attribute that, mostly this year, to an increase in the number of students who are selecting virtual schools," Nelson said.

While the School District of La Crosse saw a decrease in enrollment this year, the School District of Onalaska actually saw an increase up from their 2018-19 academic year enrollment.

"We did have a decrease in enrollment and I believe it was just an influxion of the class sizes," said Kent Ellickson, School District of Onalaska director of finance and business services. "2019-20 school year we had a larger kindergarten class and they kind of made that up."

This year, Onalaska's enrollment has increased by 43 students.

Ellickson says they look to stay steady with enrollment as opposed to increase as they are close to full capacity.

The School District of La Crosse, however, would like to see their enrollment go up and they have a plan to attract more students.

"What we will be considering is to have our virtual program ramped up to become a virtual school that is more accessible all across the state," Nelson said.

The current decrease will also affect the district financially.

"It does require for us to sharpen our pencils on the budget side of the ledger to work with less state aid," Nelson said.

While they did not have to make any budget cuts for the 2019-20 school year, Nelson says that they will for the next academic year. They did not know the specifics yet.