Shortfall In New Students A Warning Sign Worth Exploring

Shortfall In New Students A Warning Sign Worth Exploring

Published: Nov 25, 2006
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The near-halt of enrollment growth in Florida public schools deserves close examination by demographers and policymakers for signs of danger ahead.

In a state accustomed to building schools for new students every year, the brakes were hit hard this year, according to numbers released by the Florida Department of Education last week.

Florida expected nearly 2.7 million students but came up short by more than 48,000. Statewide, enrollment grew by only 477 kids - barely enough to fill a couple of wings of an urban elementary school.

The sharpest drops occurred in areas such as Miami-Dade, Orange, Broward and Hillsborough counties, where young families complain they are being priced out of the housing market. But then, all but a handful of Florida counties saw enrollment growth stop.

The temptation is to view the sudden slowdown as a welcome breather for school districts struggling to build more classrooms to comply with the class-size amendment. It also provides relief to the relentless pressure to find more teachers.

But Florida leaders should not be nonchalant about the loss of growth. A better response is to figure out why their projections were so far off.
If fewer families are moving here and more families are leaving, Florida has trouble on its hands. Nothing keeps an economy churning better than people with children, and if young families decide Florida is not for them, our state will suffer.

For all the efforts to diversify Florida’s economy, the state still greatly depends on home building as an industry. Yet because of the cooling housing market, state economists last week reduced revenue projections by about $466 million - a sharp contrast to last year, when new revenue rolled in by the billions.

The housing market slowdown, the property insurance crisis and the lack of affordable housing are most likely to blame for near-stagnant school growth - even more reason for Tallahassee to find solutions to these pressing problems.

During the fall gubernatorial campaign, Democratic nominee Jim Davis repeatedly warned of Florida’s disappearing middle class. The issue didn’t get much attention, but given what’s happening to school enrollments, it’s a concern that bears watching.

But the first order of business should be to explore the wrench that’s been thrown into time-tested growth projections so that the state can make strategic decisions based on solid numbers. (my bold)

Florida lost a lot of people to North Carolina and Georgia