Note to DeKalb parents: Decatur schools are full

As enrollment in the tiny system soars, the tuition program for non-residents is suspended

As the crisis in DeKalb County schools rages on, many parents are ready to bail. They haven’t given up on public education. They just want a district that works. DeKalb parents have been calling the tiny City of Decatur system, hoping for open spots.

In the past, Decatur allowed out-of-district students to enroll in exchange for annual tuition. At $5,480, it’s about a third of the cost of a typical private school. But Decatur’s success story has been attracting newcomers every year, and with the city’s population growing, the district has temporarily suspended its tuition program for non-residents.

“We have people coming in all the time who want to have their children come to school here,” says City of Decatur Schools superintendent Phyllis Edwards. “Our enrollment is just through the roof.”

In the past five years, enrollment grew from about 2,500 to 3,600, or about 40 percent. The proportion of poorer children—those receiving free or reduced school lunches—has steadily declined. Edwards notes that Decatur still has its challenges, including homeless children and those who are not native-English speakers. But its school board has been stable and its test scores have been rising. Amid Georgia’s abysmal high-school graduation rates, Decatur is a shining exception; 89 percent of Decatur students graduate, compared to 67 percent statewide. And at the primary end of the education spectrum, the district is still aglow from President Obama’s February visit to its early childhood learning center.

On March 1, the district began accepting registrations from new students who are residents of Decatur and will attend in the fall. In the first week, ten new ninth-graders signed up. “We haven’t even kicked into [the main registration period of] late spring or summer,” Edwards notes.