Public school enrollment continues to decline in Mississippi, with 2018 being the seventh consecutive year that less students are enrolled than they were the year before.

According to the latest numbers from the Mississippi Department of Education, 470,668 students are enrolled in public schools. This includes both district and charter school students. If the 1,641 students in charters are removed, the number dips slightly to 469,027.

In 2012, total enrollment was 492,847. And there was no competition from charters at the time. This represents a drop of about 4.5 percent over the past seven years.

What is causing the decline?

The state population has declined over the previous couple years. But if we go back to 2012, the population compared to today is largely stagnant. And maybe even a little higher today depending on 2018 Census estimates. And Census data doesn’t show a major change in the ages of the population so we have roughly the same number of children ages 5-18 today that we had in 2012.

So, it is not due to outmigration. And we see that even when we look at specific districts. While Rankin county isn’t growing at the pace it was over the prior two decades, the county has grown about 4.5 percent since 2012. Yet, enrollment in the Rankin County School District has dropped slightly from 19,448 to 19,206 this year. This is a drop of a little over 1 percent. Not huge, but not the numbers you would expect in a growing suburb.

When you look at enrollment among younger students, the numbers though are more staggering. Kindergarten enrollment has gone from 1,569 in 2012 to 1,365 today, a drop of 10 percent. Enrollment in first grade has decreased from 1,611 in 2012 to 1,438 this year, a decrease of almost 11 percent.

What about areas of the state that are losing population? That certainly includes the city of Jackson. Jackson Public Schools have seen the greatest decline in terms of real numbers. And they are the district most impacted by parents having a choice in their child’s education through charter schools.

In 2012, 29,738 students were enrolled in JPS. Today, they are under 24,000 students. This represents a drop of 20 percent, far greater than the 5 percent decline among the city’s population during this time. And the decline is 32 percent among kingergartners. The Hinds County School District, though much smaller, saw a 10 percent drop in students from 6,267 in 2012 to 5,619 today.

Also in the Jackson metro area, both Clinton and Madison county posted enrollment gains over the past seven years. Clinton grew from 4,756 to 5,310, a 12 percent gain. Madison grew by 6 percent, from 12,507 to 13,302.

Winners and losers

Outside of the Jackson metro area, we saw enrollment trends largely mirror migration trends.

Desoto County long ago passed JPS as the largest school district in the state and it continues to grow though the pace has slowed some. Today, enrollment stands at 34,392, a 5 percent gain from 2012.

Harrison County, the fourth largest school district in the state, has grown by 7 percent, from 14,037 to 15,010. The Harrison County School District is one of five districts in the county. Biloxi and Gulfport also posted gains, of 17 and 8 percent respectively.

In Jackson County, the Jackson County School District dropped 3 percent, from 9,518 to 9,209. Similarly, the Pascagoula-Gautier School District experienced a 1 percent decline, from 6,902 to 6,866. However, Ocean Springs grew by 6 percent, from 5,590 to 5,936 students.

Lamar county became the sixth district in the state to pass 10,000 students this year. The district has grown by 13 percent over the past seven years, from 9,404 to 10,624. Also in the Pine Belt, Hattiesburg had a drop of 14 percent, falling from 4,608 students in 2012 to 3,953.

The school district which saw the greatest percentage decline, among the 30 largest districts in the state, was Greenville, which saw a 22 percent drop. The district dropped from 5,714 students to 4,480. Jackson and Columbus both lost 20 percent of their student enrollment, followed by Meridian’s 16 percent loss.

Certainly, some of the decline is due to outmigration. But there appears to be more to the story. The state does not track private school enrollment or the number of children who are homeschooled, but the number of children leaving district schools is greater than the number of children leaving the state.

School district enrollment change, 2012-2018

School District 2012 Enrollment 2018 Enrollment Change
Biloxi 5,347 6,243 17%
Clinton 4,756 5,310 12%
Columbus 4,593 3,654 -20%
Desoto County 32,759 34,392 5%
Greenville 5,714 4,480 -22%
Gulfport 6,013 6,487 8%
Hancock County 4,436 4,416 0%
Harrison County 14,037 15,010 7%
Hattiesburg 4,608 3,953 -14%
Hinds County 6,267 5,619 -10%
Jackson County 9,518 9,209 -3%
Jackson 29,738 23,935 -20%
Jones County 8,534 8,701 2%
Lamar County 9,404 10,624 13%
Lauderdale County 6,778 6,283 -7%
Lee County 7,177 6,902 -4%
Lowndes County 5,071 5,452 8%
Madison County 12,507 13,302 6%
Meridian 6,209 5,232 -16%
Ocean Springs 5,590 5,936 6%
Oxford 3,944 4,323 10%
Pascagoula 6,902 6,866 -1%
Pearl 3,954 4,257 8%
Rankin County 19,448 19,206 -1%
South Panola 4,602 4,324 -6%
Tupelo 7,523 6,994 -7%
Vicksburg 8,714 7,775 -11%