Aging neighborhoods, the economy and the state's new immigration law have resulted in fewer kids sitting in most East Valley classrooms.
Mesa Unified School District saw the biggest loss of students - 2,400. The district is the largest in the state, with more than 64,000 students. School leadership believes about two-thirds of the loss is because of SB 1070, the state's new illegal immigration law. Much of the rest may be attributed to the failing economy as families lost their homes or moved elsewhere to find jobs, district officials say.
Much of the new immigration law has been put on hold by the courts, but advocates for immigrants say it spread enough fear among the Hispanic community that some families packed up and moved from the state.
The Gilbert Unified School District saw a slight decline - less than 1 percent - from last year. As of Sept. 3, the district had 38,679 students. Last year at that time it had 38,940.
Tempe Union High School District and Chandler Unified School District both saw increases. Tempe Union added more than 400 students while Chandler enrollment exceeded projections, district spokesman Terry Locke said.
Through the 10th day of school, the Chandler district saw an increase of 911 students from the same time last year. The district had expected to see an additional 750 students.
Like the past few years, the biggest class is kindergarten. There are 3,177 students in the district's kindergarten classes. The second largest class is first grade, with 3,125 students.
"This is very healthy because many of those students will continue to attend Chandler schools for 12 or 13 years," Locke said.
The district did see a decline in its northern schools, while there was growth in the southern parts of the district, including those areas that sit in Gilbert. Chandler district's northern-most schools have seen a gradual decline the last five years.
"This is due to a variety of factors, including the natural aging of a community, the housing market, economy, migration of families to south Chandler, south Gilbert and beyond and certainly immigration. It is difficult to estimate the impact of Senate Bill 1070 because the trend is similar to what we have been experiencing," Locke said.
He pointed to Galveston Elementary School, which has the highest Hispanic population in the district. Enrollment is down 28 students, from 812 to 784, this year. In 2008 and 2009, Galveston enrollment dropped 35 students and 55 students respectively.
The Tempe Union schools continue to target students through marketing efforts, said spokeswoman Linda Littell.
"We've done a lot of recruiting. Our schools are really focusing in on the uniqueness and programs of each one of the schools," Littell said, noting that 1,808 students attend Tempe high schools from out of the district. "Obviously, we don't expect that trend to last forever. We're certainly grateful for it and will continue those efforts."
The Tempe Elementary School District is also marketing its programs. The result is more students from out of the district's boundaries - 1,800 students this year - though the district's overall enrollment has seen a decrease, said spokeswoman Monica Allread.
In 2009, there were 12,478 students in Tempe elementary schools on the 19th day of class. This year, there were 11,956, a decline of 522 students.
"Our population is aging out of elementary school age," Allread said.