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School enrollment will rise in the 1990s, but how much?

New projections for school enrollments are alarming, but the author says they may not be as dramatic as they seen now.

One important reason that states will have more trouble balancing their budgets in the 1990s than the 1980s is enrollment growth in elementary and secondary schools. During the recessions of the early 1980s, enrollments were falling about 1 percent per year, easing pressures on state finances. Now, however, the are growing. This is particularly important because school aid is the largest program in the budgets of nearly all states, often accounting for one-third or more of general fund spending.

The prospect is that enrollments will continue to rise, but how much? In 1990, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projected a 7 percent increase in public school enrollments between 1990 and 2000. A revision published late last year makes some startling changes in the forecast, raising the projected growth to 13 percent in the 1990s.

We do know that enrollments have increased more than 1 percent annually for the past two years. NCES projects that growth will continue, estimating a 10.2 percent increase in enrollment from the fall of this year to the fall of 2000. Increases will vary widely among the states, with a 38 percent increase in Hawaii leading the nation. At the same time, 15 states are expected to have enrollment decreases.

The largest increases are expected at the secondary level. Public school enrollment is projected to increase 16.6 percent in grades 9-12, more than twice as fast as the 7.7 percent growth in grades K-8.

Some of the projections strain credulity: They appear seriously flawed. Following Hawaii, the largest increases from 1992 to 2000 are projected in Virginia, New Jersey, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Maryland, Alaska and North Carolina. Four of these states--Virginia, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Maryland--have extremely weak economies as of early 1992, and their economic prospects are gloomy for the next several years. With weak job grwoth, their populations are unlikely to grow much, making the estimates of enrollment increases very dubious.

New Jersey's projected 31.4 percent growth includes an increase of nearly 9 percent in a single year (1999). That figure will probably be closer to the increase for the entire years than for one year.

The authors of the NCES report explain that the big upward revision from 7 percent to 13 percent growth for the 1990s is related to a decision to shift from the "medium" to the "high" Census Bureau projection. They also note that when the 13 percent projections, discussed here were made, certain information from the 1990 census was not available. The projections will be revised later this year when more accurate information can be used.

Long-run enrollment projections are ineitably fraught with uncertainty, since they depend in part on birth rates and migration (both domestic and international) that are difficult to predict. Both births and migration are affected by how well the economy performs. The NCES projections appear to reflect the relative economic performance of states in the second half of the 1980s, but major changes have already occurred in that respect. The economic winners of the 1990s are likely to differ considerably from those of the 1980s. For one thing, defense cutbacks will affect some states much more than others.

Although the specific figures are uncertain, the fact of rising enrollments is something that most states can coutn on. Along with growing Medicaid and corrections costs, this will bring considerable pressure to raise spending in the 1990s. However, the NCES report should not be taken at face value. The authors themselves recommend that states develop their own careful projections.
 Projected Enrollment Increases
 Percentage Change 1992 to 2000
State K-12 Rank K-8 Rank 9-12 Rank
Alabama 5.6% 31 5.6% 28 6.1% 38
Alaska 23.7 7 15.5 10 51.7 3
Arizona 12.6 18 11.1 17 16.9 20
Arkansas 3.9 32 0.9 33 10.4 31
California 14.0 16 11.8 15 20.2 17
Colorado 6.0 30 -1.9 37 26.4 13
Connecticut 12.5 19 13.9 13 9.2 33
Delaware 16.0 13 18.4 7 13.8 27
Florida 19.8 9 15.4 12 33.2 8
Georgia 16.6 12 16.5 9 17.1 19
Hawaii 37.9 1 18.8 6 87.8 1
Idaho -3.3 42 -5.9 43 3.2 40
Illinois 16.9 11 15.4 11 20.5 16
Indiana 1.1 34 2.1 30 -0.7 44
Iowa -8.0 49 -9.4 46 -4.1 48
Kansas 1.6 33 -0.9 36 8.0 34
Kentucky -0.6 37 0.7 34 -3.9 47
Louisiana 11.0 20 3.3 29 32.5 9
Maine 18.6 10 16.9 8 23.5 15
Maryland 25.1 6 19.4 5 40.3 4
Massachusetts 13.9 17 12.2 14 18.6 18
Michigan 7.9 28 8.4 22 6.6 35
Minnesota -1.2 39 -2.7 39 2.3 41
Mississippi 9.9 22 7.7 23 15.6 22
Missouri 9.4 24 7.3 24 15.2 24
Montana -4.0 43 -11.1 47 14.3 26
Nebraska -6.2 47 -7.7 45 -1.3 46
Nevada 0.5 35 1.3 31 0.0 43
New Hampshire 26.5 5 24.1 3 33.3 7
New Jersey 31.4 3 29.5 2 36.4 6
New Mexico 28.3 4 11.6 16 66.3 2
New York 14.9 14 9.1 21 28.8 11
North Carolina 23.5 8 21.3 4 29.1 10
North Dakota -6.0 46 -13.3 48 14.7 25
Ohio -0.2 36 -0.5 35 0.4 42
Oklahoma -11.4 50 -18.3 50 6.3 37
Oregon -1.4 40 -2.0 38 -0.7 45
Pennsylvania 9.1 25 6.5 26 15.2 23
Rhode Island 10.6 21 9.5 20 16.2 21
South Carolina 8.2 27 6.3 27 12.6 29
South Dakota 7.6 29 1.0 32 25.0 14
Tennessee 9.8 23 9.9 18 9.7 32
Texas -1.1 38 -3.8 40 6.4 36
Utah 8.7 26 6.6 25 13.5 28
Vermont 14.1 15 9.7 19 26.9 12
Virginia 32.3 2 30.3 1 38.0 5
Washington -3.0 41 -6.0 44 5.0 39
West Virginia -5.9 45 -4.3 41 -9.5 50
Wisconsin -4.4 44 -4.4 42 -4.6 49
Wyoming -6.5 48 -13.6 49 11.1 30
D.C. 24.7 3.2 94.7
U.S. 10.2 7.7 16.6
 Source: National Center for Education Statistics.


Steven D. Gold is director of the Center for the Study of the States at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, State University of New York, Albany.
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Author:Gold, Steven D.
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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