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Published in Print: September 6, 2000, as Student Enrollment in Nation's Schools Hits Record High This Fall

Student Enrollment in Nation's Schools Hits Record High This Fall

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Hear the noise? The "baby boom echo" is still resounding in the nation's schools.

The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics reported last month that 53 million children will be filling seats in public and private school classrooms, from prekindergarten through 12th grade, this year. That's the largest number in history—a distinction matched by the record 15.1 million students enrolled full time in college this year.

For More Information

"The full report, "A Back to School Special Report on the Baby Boom Echo," is available at the U.S. Department of Education's site, www.ed.gov.

The precollegiate enrollment will stay fairly steady through 2010, and then begin to increase each year for the rest of the century, the NCES projects.

But there are significant enrollment increases under way at the high school level, the center reports, with the number of high school graduates expected to rise nationwide by about 10 percent over the next decade.

"Now we're beginning to see increases in enrollments in lower grades, too," said Thomas D. Snyder, the director of annual reports for the NCES.

He said the projections are based on actual enrollment data collected by the states in fall 1998, on state forecasts, and on projections by the U.S. Census Bureau. This year's projection is consistent with the center's forecasts over the past five years, although this year the department looked further ahead than usual, he said.

Mr. Snyder said the enrollment increases are due in large part to the so-called baby boom echo, as the children and even some grandchildren of millions of young adults born between the late 1940s and the mid-1960s are moving through the schools. The other main cause, he said, is an increase in immigration.

The national projections feature significant regional and local variations, however. The regional forecast for 2000 to 2010 shows a 6 percent school enrollment increase in the West and a 0.5 percent increase in the South, but a 5 percent decrease in the Northeast and a 3 percent decrease in the Midwest.

School Construction Needs

The Education Department used the release of the statistics to highlight what it describes as a critical need for school construction in many communities. The Clinton administration supports legislation introduced by Reps. Nancy L. Johnson, R-Conn., and Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., that would authorize states to use $24.8 billion in new tax-credit bonds to build and modernize schools.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley called for more federal support for school construction while traveling in Nevada, a state with a projected 42 percent high school enrollment increase over the next decade, the greatest such increase in the country.

"The fact that many schools have been using portable classrooms for some years now makes clear that we are not prepared for the kinds of constant growth the future will bring," Mr. Riley said.

Nevada officials say most of their enrollment increases are in the southwestern part of the state, notably the 217,000-student Clark County schools, one of the fastest-growing school systems in the nation. Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, is opening 14 new schools this school year.

Ron Utt, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, pointed out that in many sparsely populated Western states, however, the large percentage increases reflect a relatively small number of students.

Mr. Utt argued that no federal program to support school construction is needed. "There are big increases in enrollment, a lot of schools are in a shabby state, and there are a lot of kids in portables, but that is due to choices rather than a lack of resources," he said.

Vol. 20, Issue 1, Page 18

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