A recent report by the Indiana Department of Education shows public schools in northern Lake County have lost the most students to charter and private schools this year.
Using data from the start of the 2017-18 school year, figures show the loss has been greatest in Gary where the ratio of students not attending the city's public schools is approaching 2-to-1, according to the report.
In the fall, the city had 12,032 school-aged children — 4,681 (38.9 percent) attended the Gary Community School Corp. About 7,354 students (61 percent) attended other schools — 5,466 in charter schools (45.4 percent), 1,266 (10.5 percent) attending other public schools outside the city and 578 attending private schools through state vouchers.
Last summer, the state tasked an emergency management team led by Peggy Hinckley to run the Gary district — fixing buildings, improving academics and tacking its debts in hopes of attracting students back to the district.
Those figures present the "challenge of what is before us very accurately," Hinckley said. "We have to restore confidence in the Gary Community School Corp."
To save money, Hinckley's team is expected to announce the closure of one of the district's two remaining high schools next month. The goal is to run a single high school with quality programs including sports and music that will attract students, she said.
Some of the district's biggest enrollment losses come following elementary school, she said. To combat that trend, district officials are exploring bringing back a middle school, Hinckley said.
"There really isn't a focus on a middle school," she said. "As I look at the 10-year (enrollment trends), we really start to lose them in seventh grade."
Gary has been without a public middle school since Williams Annex closed in December 2016. A restored middle school would provide attractive "activities for young people that age — sports, music, all those things," she said.
In East Chicago, nearly 70 percent — or 3,721 of 5,329 children attend the School City of East Chicago. Of 1,639 attending other schools — 988 attend charter schools, 367 attend private schools using state vouchers. Parents elected to enroll 271 in other public school outside the city, the report showed.
In Hammond, more than 85 percent of the city's school-aged children — 12,416 of 14,521 — attend the School City of Hammond, according to the report. Of 2,109 students that now attend other schools — 926 attend a private school through a state voucher and 809 attend a charter school.
Elsewhere in Lake County, the report showed many students still go to public schools where they live — Munster (98 percent), Lake Central (97 percent), River Forest (97 percent), Crown Point (96.7 percent), Tri-Creek (96 percent), Highland (95.4 percent), Hobart (94 percent), Hanover (93.9 percent), Griffith (92.6 percent), Lake Ridge (91.9 percent), Merrillville (89 percent) Whiting (88.6 percent) and Lake Station (81 percent).
In Porter County, more than 90 percent of students continue to attend public schools where they live.
In Portage, about 95 percent of its school-aged students — 7,579 of 8,191 — attend public school there. Of 612 students attending other schools — 284 are enrolled in charter schools, 165 are using state vouchers to attend private schools and the parents of 107 students opted to enroll them in another public school district.
In the Duneland School Corp, which includes Chesterton, 92 percent of students — 5,543 of 6,016 — attend public schools within its boundaries. Of 474 students attending other schools — 340 are enrolled in charter schools, parents have enrolled 64 in other public schools and 40 are using state vouchers to attend a private school.
In Valparaiso, 93 percent of students — 6,177 of 6,612 — attend Valparaiso Community Schools. Of 435 attending other schools — parents of 171 have enrolled them in another public school district, 118 are attending charter schools and 87 are using state vouchers to attend private schools.
Elsewhere in Porter County, the report showed high enrollment in public schools where students lived — Union Township (95 percent), East Porter (94.7 percent), Porter Township (94.5 percent) and Boone Township (93.9 percent).
This is the first year the department has released the data.
"We are pleased to compile and release the 2017-2018 transfer report, providing our schools with even more insight into the individual students they serve," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said in a statement. "Having a greater understanding of every aspect of our local districts will allow our educators to make important decisions and better plans."