TEXAS SCHOOLS TO SEE ENROLLMENT DECLINE
(AUSTIN) — After years of blockbuster student growth, Texas public school enrollment rates are forecast to go down for the next ten years, according to testimony offered by the state commissioner of education before the Senate Finance Committee on Monday. While COVID changed the trajectory of enrollment growth, Mike Morath told senators the big factor has nothing to do with the pandemic. "After the great recession of 2011, people started having fewer babies," he said. Morath described it as a "negative enrollment bubble" that's moving through Texas school populations, where each incoming class is a little smaller than the one before it. "Enrollment is actually going to begin trending negative on a net basis for the next decade in Texas because of this decrease in birth rates," said Morath. Though an individual district here or there may still be seeing robust growth, on the whole, all regions of the state are seeing the same decrease. National data, too, bears this out, with the National Center for Education Statistics forecasting a decline of around two million students enrolled in American public schools through 2030.
Texas Education Agency data shows that Texas has seen close to linear growth in student population for many years. Between 2012 and 2019, the state added almost half a million students, with a rough growth rate of around ten percent. In 2020, the pandemic drove enrollment rates down for the first time, though they snapped back to similar levels of growth starting in 2021. TEA is now projecting a small, but sustained decrease in student enrollment through 2025. It's a modest downturn, forecasting a decrease of about 50,000 students out of around 5.5 million, but it's a sharp change from the last 10 years. "For the last two decades, student enrollment in public school in Texas has been growing by leaps and bounds," said Morath. "We added probably 70,000 kids a school year for the better part of ten or fifteen years. To put that in perspective it's sort of like an Austin ISD-sized school system emerges from whole cloth every single year." He said that growth meant that the state had to increase spending on schools by hundreds of millions of dollars every year just to keep pace with current levels of per-student funding. This expected decrease in enrollment is all happening despite historic numbers of new residents moving to Texas from other states. "The people who move here have less kids than the people that are here," said Morath. "Everybody is essentially having less children post-great recession than they were pre-great recession…this is a demographic shift." International net inbound migration is also down from a decade ago, he added.
Education spending makes up by far the largest chunk of the state budget, with nearly $60 billion in discretionary state revenue -about 45 percent of all such money - going towards public and higher education over the next two years. A decrease in student population could have significant implications as lawmakers prepare a spending plan for the next biennium. "If enrollment is flat or declining, that actually provides appropriators far more flexibility in the next decade than you had in the last decade," Morath told members. Some of that flexibility is being exercised in the size of property tax cuts planned for the session, with $15 billion being set aside in both the Senate and House budget drafts to lower local levies. With enrollment projected to go down, that means that the state can address property taxes while actually increasing per-student funding totals at public schools. "Comments that we don't have enough money because we're doing property tax relief, or we're not doing enough for schools, et cetera, when you look at the real numbers you see an increase in a per-ADA (average daily allotment) level of funding by the state," said Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, February 7 at 11 a.m.