Outlook 2010: Student enrollment projections show growth in West, decline in Northeast

At the preK-12 level, student enrollment is projected to increase every year until at least 2018, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. It reported that elementary and secondary enrollment for both public and private schools was 55,290,000 in fall 2006, and was projected to rise to 59,813,000 by fall 2018, an increase of 8.2 percent over 12 years.

But the overall national figures obscure significant differences in growth from region to region. Student enrollment in Southern states from 2006 to 2018 is projected to climb 18 percent, led by a 32.1 percent increase in Texas. In Western states, enrollment from 2006 to 2018 is projected to rise 14.7 percent, led by a 42.2 percent increase in Arizona.

By contrast, enrollment for that 12-year span in Northeastern states is projected to decline by 5.4 percent; Rhode Island is expected to have the sharpest decline, 11.5 percent. In the Midwest, enrollment from 2006 to 2018 is projected to increase a modest 0.3 percent. Nebraska is projected to see a 7.0 percent increase, while North Dakota is projected to see a decline of 8.5 percent.

Many public school districts have seen their enrollments decline because of defections to charter schools. In New Orleans, the devastation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 brought about an opportunity for education reformers to remake the public education system, mainly through the creation of a state-run Recovery district that consists mostly of charter schools. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 57 percent of the 35,447 public school students in New Orleans attend charter schools. Other districts with significant portions of students attending charter schools are Washington D.C., where 36 percent of students are in charters, and Detroit, where 43,035 students attend charters.

The Los Angeles Unified District has the most students enrolled in charter schools — 59,122, which represents 9 percent of the district's overall enrollment of 680,927.

The Obama's administration's embrace of charter schools is expected to result in continued growth of charters, which could cause schools problems addressing their space needs. Districts losing students to charter schools may end up with underused buildings, and charter schools, which already have difficulty finding suitable educational space, may see even more competition for appropriate facilities. A history of distrust between charter schools and traditional district schools has made cooperation and facility sharing problematic in many jurisdictions.

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

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