(SHREVEPORT, La.) -- With each passing year, fewer and fewer children attend Caddo Public Schools.
Based on enrollment figures from the Louisiana Department of Education, 3 Investigates found that while many larger parishes in the states are seeing more students in their public schools, the numbers are steadily declining in Caddo Parish.
"Except for my daughter in (Caddo Middle Magnet), I’m done with Caddo. We will not be going back at any point," said Felicia Moore, a mother of three.
She was one of dozens who responded to a post in a Facebook group geared toward mothers in the Shreveport-Bossier City area. 3 Investigates made the post, looking to find out if parents pulled their kids from a Caddo Parish school to educate them elsewhere, and why.
“I removed my oldest from a Caddo Public School and put her into private. Best decision ever,” one woman commented.
“Moved to Benton from Caddo specifically due to schools. Now I homeschool,” commented another.
Moore withdrew her twin sons from Southern Hills Elementary in the middle of third grade because she said they were bullied.
"I’m sure the teachers were doing the best that they could, but it was not a great educational experience for my boys," Moore said.
The boys are beginning the fourth grade at University View Academy, an online, tuition-free charter school available to children in Louisiana in grades K-12.
"When we enrolled in the online school, I realized how far behind (my sons) were, based on what Southern Hills was teaching them to what they’re learning at University View,” Moore said. “It’s not in line."
3 Investigates spoke with Caddo Schools Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree about the enrollment trend, and told him about the response to the Facebook post.
"That’s the first time, you know, I’ve really heard that," Goree said.
The superintendent is aware that kids are leaving the school system.
"At this time last year, we were concerned because – as far as anyone could remember – Caddo Parish Public Schools dipped below 40,000 students,” Goree said. “And that was a time for alarm."
Between online, charter, private and homeschool, parents have more choices for their child's education than ever before. But when 3 Investigates looked at other public school systems in Louisiana, none of them lost students at the rate Caddo is losing them.
"Between 2014 and 2019, enrollment at Bossier Parish Schools increased by 3.9 percent. DeSoto Parish enrollment dropped 0.9 percent.
Of the larger parishes in the state, Jefferson schools grew 4.5 percent, Lafayette grew 1.4 percent, St. Tammany grew 1.1 percent, Livingston grew 0.3 percent and Ascension grew 6.8 percent during the same period of time.
The only other large parish that lost students was East Baton Rouge, which saw a 2.6 percent decrease in enrollment.
Enrollment Caddo Parish schools dropped 6.4 percent between 2014 and 2019.
Caddo schools started looking into the trend last year, to figure out where the students were going.
"Overwhelmingly, we saw families moving out of the city,” Goree said. “You saw people moving to south Louisiana, you saw some moving to Bossier, but you saw a huge influx of people moving to Texas."
Goree attributed the out-of-state moves to economic opportunities for parents, pointing out that the enrollment in Caddo Parish schools is declining at the same rate as the overall population in the parish.
“Unlike many urban school systems, a vast majority of students are still choosing the public school system," Goree said. "I think we have to be very realistic and accept the fact that we are an urban school system, and accept the fact that where you see your greatest successes in urban environment is when you offer choice and opportunities for families."
Caddo schools has launched some new initiatives to expand those choices: the Early College program allows students to graduate high school with an Associate's degree, and dozens of students attend Caddo Virtual Academy, which is now in its fifth year.
"We’ve seen great successes,” Goree said. “(Caddo Virtual Academy) served as a wonderful choice for those children who just – ‘I’m, not into sports, I’m not into cheerleading, I just want to get this done.’"
Goree said next area of focus will be adding more options for middle school students. He said that’s the age group seeing the largest declines in enrollment.