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Enrollment Boom

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The school enrollment boom that began 14 years ago will continue across the West and South over the next decade but taper off throughout the Midwest and Northeast, according to projections in a new federal report.

Schools in California, Georgia, and other states with burgeoning cities and suburbs will continue to feel the crush of enrollment growth until 2007, albeit at a slower rate than over the past 10 years. But rural states such as Maine, Nebraska, and Oklahoma can expect to see the number of schoolchildren level off or decrease only slightly over the same period, according to the report, Here Come the Teenagers, released in August by the U.S. Department of Education. "The impact will not be felt universally or evenly across the country," says Pascal Forgione Jr., commissioner of education statistics at the department.

Cities and suburbs will experience a disproportionate share of the growth. Enrollments in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, and other major cities--many with school systems that are already overtaxed--will rise by double-digit percentages. "The child population is growing fastest in places where children's conditions are the worst," says William O'Hare, director of the annual Kids Count survey published by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation. "We're putting more and more kids in places where the outcomes are the worst."

The biggest growth in the student population will take place among teenagers. Public high school enrollment will rise from an estimated 13.1 million this fall to 14.9 million in 2007. Because new high schools are twice as expensive to build as elementary schools, the costs associated with the nation's enrollment growth will likely be higher over the next 10 years than during the past decade.

Projected Enrollment Changes: 1997 to 2007

Still, the pressure on primary schools won't let up. Enrollment in preschool through 5th grade is projected to stay at current levels through 2007. "Unlike the decline after the previous baby boom cycle," Forgione says, "the number of births in the 'baby boom echo' is not expected to fall off but remain fairly stable. There's not a light at the end of the tunnel. It's going to be a sustained enrollment impact."

Overall, public school enrollment should increase by about 1.9 million, or 4.1 percent, over the next 10 years. The number of private school children is expected to rise by 198,000, or 3.4 percent.

The number of public school students will increase by 1.3 million, or 11.6 percent, in the West and 893,000, or 5.6 percent, in the South. Enrollment figures will stay level at about 8.1 million in the Northeast but will drop by 246,000, or 2.3 percent, in the Midwest.

--David J. Hoff

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