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BIG INFLUX OF STUDENTS EXPECTED : `BABY-BOOM ECHO' TO HIT CALIFORNIA.

Byline: Jan Ferris The Sacramento Bee

California will be the hardest-hit state in the nation this next decade as the bulge of baby boomers' babies, ethnic-minority births and immigrants puts an even tighter squeeze on the state's already jammed school systems, according to a federal report.

Federal officials on Wednesday released a forecast anticipating an 18 percent increase - or 1 million more students - in California's elementary and high school enrollment by 2006, as well as similar growth in the state's strained community colleges and universities.

The U.S. Department of Education report comes as the nation's schools brace for 51.7 million public and private school students this fall, a record that surpasses the number of postwar baby boomers flooding campuses 25 years ago.

Dubbed the ``baby boom echo,'' the growth trend began reverberating through California in the mid-1980s. In fact, of the nation's 25 fastest-growing school districts in recent years, four are in the Golden State. The Elk Grove Unified School District ranks second in percentage growth of those districts, and 25th in sheer numbers.

But while Elk Grove and some other growing systems have been planning for the crunch, much of the state is still far from prepared, many analysts and educators say.

Elementary and secondary districts must find ways to pay for new schools and shore up the state's aging stock of classrooms. And teachers, already in high demand with this summer's ambitious move to reduce class sizes, will have to be trained in greater numbers than ever.

``(California) will be in catch-up mode for the next decade or more,'' predicted Chris Pipho of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

``The students will probably be there before the buildings are ready and the teachers are trained in great enough numbers.''

The state faced a similar situation more than 30 years ago when the first of the baby boomers - born between 1946 and 1964 - neared college age. The University of California, California State University and community college systems produced a joint plan outlining how to cope with the student surge.

``We turned over heaven and hell to make sure there was space for (baby boomers),'' said Patrick Callan, executive director of the San Jose-based California Higher Education Policy Center.

Thus far, that hasn't been the case for boomers' offspring, he said. ``California has no plan whatsoever. Each system is out doing its own thing, trying to solve problems in the way they're most comfortable with.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 25, 1996
Words:408
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