Watching district populations can lead to savings, better education

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While many school board members and superintendents know that the state’s student enrollment continues to decrease, the headline in the Connecticut Mirror article by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas states that the school population is shrinking “at a faster rate than in 48 states.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the expected decline of 14.2 percent would mean “77,600 fewer students will be attending elementary or secondary schools by 2025, and about 2,100 fewer students will be graduating high school each year.” With a 3.7 percent margin of error, only New Hampshire is expected to have a higher proportional drop during the same period of 14.6 percent.

Nationwide, the student population is anticipated to increase by 2.7 percent. In the Northeast, “enrollment is projected to decrease by 4.8 percent.”

According to Thomas, Connecticut has “seen a steady decrease of 36,000 students attending public schools over the last decade—a 6 percent decline. This report [from the Department of Education], shows the declines are accelerating and will continue to encompass all grades.”

CABE has continued to watch both demographics and diversity changes over the last few years. Information on individual districts can be found through the Connecticut Data Center  here.

Board members and superintendents should realize that changes in individual districts depend on a number of different considerations. For example, will the expected large numbers of Puerto Rican students coming into the State due to the hurricanes, change the enrollment numbers in a significant way? Those who end up staying in Connecticut will not end up residing evenly across the State, so different districts will see dissimilar effects.

Demographic projections: Not a perfect science

In addition, I know of districts which, in the past few years, were projected to lose population, but, due to businesses moving from other states or starting here, led to at least stable and, at times, increases in towns’ populations. People looking for jobs or transferring can have large effects on both the new and former districts.

Of course, growth, decrease or stability in the numbers of students, never tells the whole story. Students come to school with different needs and our schools must be able to accommodate new English Learners and students who need other support. We know from demographic studies that over half of American students will be of color. Ensuring cultural competence and providing role models, including teachers, principals, superintendents and board members of color will strengthen our schools.

At this time of fiscal hardship in the State, districts are looking for ways to save money, such as by closing schools, sharing services and, sometimes, consolidating districts. As school districts are looking for more efficiency with at least continued effectiveness in carrying out your mission, keep an eye on your district’s enrollment projections.

Sometimes expectations are incorrect, but it would be a big mistake to give less than full attention to what your student population will be in the future as you make important decisions.

Robert Rader is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.

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