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Nevada’s Washoe County School District is missing children. About 6,500, and no one seems to have noticed. In the last decade (2008 to 2017,) the student population in Washoe County Schools has increased by 291 students. That is a half of one percent increase (0.05%) in ten years. The population of Washoe County has increased by almost eleven percent (10.7%) during the same time period. If the student population grew at the same rate the school district would have 6,500 more students than it does. Where are the missing children?

GRAPH 1.0 – WCSD Growth vs Washoe County Population (1,000’s of people)

Mystery of the Missing Students

The population of Washoe County increased by over 44,000 people from 2008 to 2017. One might expect that the Washoe County schools would have increased by more than 291 students. If the student population had kept pace with the Washoe County population growth, there should be over 70,000 pupils instead of just under 64,000.

Table 1.0 – WCSD student population growth compared to projected growth (Based on Washoe County population. NOTE:  All figures are from WCSD reports.)

Some of the missing students can be found in private schools and public charter schools. Private schools in Washoe County enrolled 3,419 students in 2016-17; however, total enrollment in private schools in Nevada have not changed significantly during the last ten years. Public charter schools account for some of the missing students, but they only enrolled 2,753 students in Washoe County during the 2016-17 year.

Assuming that public charter schools absorbed 1,000 new students during the last ten years, and private schools absorbed 500, there is still approximately 5,000 missing students. It is possible that the growth in Washoe County was primarily adults without children. If that is the case, it may indicate that families aren’t moving to Nevada.

Flat Student Growth Saved Schools

There is a silver lining to the flat growth in Washoe County schools. Prior to 2008, the district was overcrowded and facing a crisis. The flat growth allowed time to ease some of the overcrowding and end some of the desperate measures to handle the situation.

However, Nevada may be facing a bigger crisis. If families are choosing not to move to the State it may be that Nevada’s poor school rankings have finally sealed its fate. No one wants to raise a family in a State that has underfunded schools.