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How Should Districts Plan for Future Students? New Federal Data Offer Insights

Public schools could see another 800,000 students in the next decade, according to the latest projections from the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education. But just how many more may depend on how district leaders look at it.

In the newly released statistics compendium, the Condition of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics predicts enrollment in pre-K-12 public schools will grow from 50.6 million in 2016 to 51.4 million in 2028, a 2 percent increase.

NCES enrollment projections.JPG

NCES expects that rise in enrollment to come from 28 states in the South, West, and Midwest, as well as the District of Columbia. By contrast, the other 22 states—including all of the Northeast—are expected to continue to decline in student population. 

Different Perspectives on Change

The National Center on Education Statistics includes Census data and enrollment from previous years to make its predictions on the size of future student populations, but it weighs actual enrollments more heavily than more basic population information. 

This means that state trends may look different if you are judging changes in public or private enrollment, or in the numbers of school-age children in a community (as is needed to distribute federal grants), or in the families having new children. You can hover over states in the charts below to look at differences among them from 1990 to 2016, using different metrics:

Let's look at Connecticut and North Dakota, for example. NCES predicts Connecticut to lose 12 percent of its students, the most nationwide, while North Dakota would see its enrollment jump 16 percent by 2028. Connecticut's birth rate dropped by more than a third from 1990 to 2016, faster than the (mostly declining) national average. Meanwhile, its school-age population and public school enrollments both rose during that time though school enrollments increased less than the rate for [OK?-dv] nation as a whole. By contrast, North Dakota eked out a 3 percent higher birth rate by 2016, even as its school-age population and public school enrollment fell by nearly 5 percent and 7 percent, respectively, during that time. 

Shifts in enrollment are likely to continue trends of regional school closures and consolidations in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest. It's also worth noting that the Education Department data predicts 3 percent or greater declines in some of the most populous states outside of the South, including New York, Illinois, and California—which in spite of the decline, is expected to continue to have the largest overall pre-K-12 student population.

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