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Published in Print: September 1, 2004, as Public Schools Expect 48.2 Million Students

Public Schools Expect 48.2 Million Students

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U.S. public schools will open their doors to about 48.2 million students in prekindergarten through grade 12 this September, according to recent projections by the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s about 135,000 more students than for the 2003-04 school year, or an increase of less than half a percent.

U.S. public schools will open their doors to about 48.2 million students in prekindergarten through grade 12 this September, according to recent projections by the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s about 135,000 more students than for the 2003-04 school year, or an increase of less than half a percent.

A decade ago, the nation’s overall enrollment in public schools was just over 44 million.

The NCES projects that about 6.3 million students will attend private schools this fall, an increase of about 23,000 from the previous school year.

Researchers cited in the federal statistical bible on education, The Condition of Education 2004, released in June, attribute the climbing enrollment to increased immigration and the "baby boom echo"—a 25 percent increase in annual births that began in the mid-1970s and peaked in 1990.

By 2013, the furthest horizon for the NCES projections, the enrollment in public schools is expected to reach 49.7 million, compared with 6.6 million for private schools.

A prominent education demographer points out that one of the more interesting enrollment trends involves differences between states.

"Half of us live in only 10 states," said Harold L. Hodgkinson, the director of the Center for Demographic Policy at the Washington-based Institute for Educational Leadership. "States are getting more unlike one another all the time."

Racial Breakdowns

To analyze school enrollment by race or ethnicity and poverty, federal researchers have focused on national data for 4th graders in 2003.

Among public school 4th graders nationwide, 60.2 percent were white, 17 percent were Hispanic, 17 percent were African-American, 4.1 percent were of Asian origin, and 1.1 percent were American Indian.

Last year, 47 percent of African-American and 51 percent of Hispanic students were in the highest-poverty schools—in which more than 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Only 5 percent of white students were in such schools.

By contrast, 6 percent of black and Hispanic 4th graders attended the lowest-poverty schools—in which 10 percent of students or fewer are eligible for subsidized lunches—compared with 29 percent of white 4th graders.

Vol. 24, Issue 1, Page 9

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