Public school enrollments in the U.S. rose from 41 million in 1990 to almost 51 million today. That’s a nearly 25 percent increase in twenty-seven years—and the growth has been almost constant over that period, albeit much slower during the past decade. NCES projects that nearly 1.5 million more students will further swell the ranks of American public education by 2024.
Why, then, is enrollment decline an issue for schools and school systems? There are, as always, two possible—and obvious—explanations for why the number of kids attending a particular school or district shrinks even as national totals rise.
First, families may move from one community or region to another, as in the well- known shift from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt that’s been evident since the 1970s—a major demographic transformation brought about by economic changes (and the pursuit of better weather). That’s why Arizona today has nine House members versus three in 1970—and why Michigan has fourteen now versus nineteen then.
Second, families may change their child’s school—by shifting to a nearby district, by availing themselves of public school choice within the district, by opting to home-school, or by transferring to a private or charter school.