Continuing State Public School Enrollment Decline Will Increase Fiscal Pressure on Districts

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Study: Continuing State Public School Enrollment Decline Will Increase Fiscal Pressure on Districts

Update of 2008 study finds that declines no longer just focused in western Massachusetts and Cape Cod; urban enrollments have stabilized

Enrollment Trends in Massachusetts: An Update

BOSTON – Enrollment in Massachusetts public schools is continuing to fall, and the decreases could result in under-utilized facilities, higher per-pupil costs and more political pressure to limit the growth of charter schools according to a new Pioneer Institute white paper.

In Enrollment Trends in Massachusetts: An Update, Salem State University Professor Ken Ardon updates a 2008 study for Pioneer. Professor Ardon is a former official in the state’s Executive Office for Administration and Finance and a recognized expert in school data and finance.

“Declining enrollments and rising costs mean two things for school administrators,” says Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios. “First, they will need to seek additional school closings, a politically difficult task that will face strong parental resistance. Second, enrollment declines and higher costs will increase local school district opposition to charter schools. But the fact is that charter schools and charter-like reforms in district schools are the only way to stem the outward tide on student enrollment in our cities.”

Professor Ardon finds that overall state public school enrollment continues to fall – by a total of 35,000, or 4 percent, since 2003 – even as national enrollment has increased. But some of the particulars of the decline have changed.

The declines are no longer just focused in western Massachusetts and Cape Cod. In urban districts, where enrollment was declining more than twice as quickly as the state average in 2008, enrollment is now flat.

Two major factors are behind the decline. First, Massachusetts’ population is growing more slowly than most other states’ and second, the commonwealth’s citizens are comparatively old and getting older, which results in a smaller number of births.

Finally, even though a large number of people move to Massachusetts from foreign countries, even more people leave to move to other states. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education projects that state public school enrollment will fall by another 30,000 students by 2020.

In addition to our September 2008 study entitled Enrollment Trends in Massachusetts, Pioneer has more recently published research on public education in Massachusetts, including A Changing Bureaucracy: The History of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (May 2012), Urban and Rural Poverty and Student Achievement in Massachusetts (April 2012), and Beyond Demographic Destiny: An Analysis of Massachusetts Minority and White Student Achievement Gaps (March 2010).

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Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to change the intellectual climate in the Commonwealth by supporting scholarship that tests marked solutions against the conventional wisdom of more governmental involvement in Massachusetts public policy issues.