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$5.4M in enrollment growth grants doled out to ND schools

BISMARCK, N.D. — Thirty-five school districts in North Dakota have received a total of $5.4 million in grants to help them cope with unusually high enrollment growth.

The Legislature earlier this year set aside nearly $15 million in the Department of Public Instruction’s two-year budget for the grants. State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler announced the first grants Monday.

“The way that our funding formula is designed, the state reimburses school districts for students that they educated last year,” she said. “When a district has a large number of students who move into the school system over the summer, it is sometimes hard for a school district to come up with enough money to cover the costs of hiring a new teacher, supplying new classrooms, and all of the other costs of educating those students.”

West Fargo got the most money, nearly $1.2 million. The school’s enrollment has jumped 60 percent in the past decade to nearly 9,600 students, and the district has added a new high school, middle school and three elementary schools to keep up.

The fast-growing district has been able to handle the enrollment growth without raising local taxes or reducing teacher pay, but has had to find other ways to save money, such as having multiple fuel sources for buildings so they can be heated with the cheapest available fuel.

Related: Relief coming for North Dakota schools strained by oil boom

“We’re being much more creative and conservative when it comes to that particular portion of our budget,” Business Manager Mark Lemer said.

Figures recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau show the number of children age 17 and younger in North Dakota grew by more than 12 percent from 2010 to 2014, the highest increase in the nation. North Dakota’s overall population has grown mainly due to people flocking to the state in search of high-paying jobs in the western oil patch.

The next-highest enrollment growth grants went to two western cities — Williston, which got nearly $958,000, and Bismarck, which got nearly $480,000. Williston’s enrollment rose 9 percent this year and Bismarck’s 3 percent.

Statewide, North Dakota’s public schools saw their enrollment grow by nearly 2 percent, to a total of 106,070 students.

Schools with the most pronounced enrollment increases were eligible for grants of $4,000 per student. Districts with lesser increases were eligible for grants of $2,000 per student. Twenty-one school districts qualified for the larger grants, while 14 were eligible for the lesser stipends.

This article was written by Blake Nicholson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.