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School Growth Here to Stay, Report Says


Share School Issues CenterA government report on the baby boom echo focuses on the growing number of children -- grandchildren of the baby boomers -- heading back to school.

This week, the U.S. Department of Education warned that the historic growth that crowds our nation's classrooms is here to stay and will continue throughout the next century. The report Growing Pains: The Challenge of Overcrowded Schools Is Here to Stay predicts that by the end of this century, 94 million students will attend the country's schools and colleges.

As children head back to school this fall in unprecedented numbers -- 53 million -- portable classrooms are cropping up across the nation. Some school districts are unable to build new schools fast enough to meet the growing demand for new classrooms. During the past 15 years, enrollment increased by 8 million children.

"During the 21st century, we will never go back to a time when we are free of growing pains," U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said when he released the report this week. "We have a century of growth ahead of us -- a crescendo of children. Growth is a new and unwavering demographic constant."

At a Glance: Report Highlights

The government issued a special report on the baby boom echo this week. Highlights from the report include the following:

* The greatest number of children in history -- 53 million -- will enter public and private schools this September.

* In 100 years, the report predicts, 94 million children and young adults will attend our nation's schools.

* College enrollment, estimated to be 16.1 million within five years, will reach record highs.

* Diversity will increase; the number of Hispanic children in schools will increase by 60 percent within 20 years.

* Seventy-eight percent of all schools in rural America need repair and modernization.

UNLIKE THE '60s AND '70s

Jam-packed classrooms are reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s, when the nation's baby boomers crowded into the nation's schools. School districts coped with the population surge. Many districts split school days into double sessions and struggled to pay for an explosion of school construction.

The scenario of the 1960s classroom crunch is similar to today, but this time, the drop in student population that closed countless schools after the boomers graduated isn't expected to happen. Instead, the growth is expected to stay at record levels over the next ten years and then begin to increase through the rest of the century.

"We cannot continue to apply temporary solutions to permanent, ongoing challenges," Riley said. "The fact that many schools have been using portable classrooms for some years now makes clear that we are not prepared for the kinds of constant growth the future will bring."

CHANGE TO CONTINUE

The boom in education isn't only at the K-12 levels. College enrollment is also at a record high, up 2.9 million during the past 15 years. Over the next five years, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) expects college enrollment to grow to 16.1 million students.

In addition to the growth of the student population, the government report predicts that the student population will become more racially and ethnically diverse. During the next 20 years, the NCES report estimates, the number of white, non-ethnic students will decrease while the number of Hispanic, Asian, and African American families will rise significantly. For example, the number of Hispanic children in schools is expected to increase by 60 percent, from 7.9 million to 12.7 million.

RILEY CALLS FOR FEDERAL CONSTRUCTION BILL

Riley called for the passage of HR 4094, America's Better Classroom Act of 2000, a bipartisan bill that would allocate $25 billion in school construction bonds. The bill was proposed by U.S. Representatives Nancy Johnson (R-CT) and Charles Rangel (D-NY) and has the support of 226 members of the House of Representatives.

Rangel renewed his request for legislative support to pass the bill when the baby boom report was released this week. "Just as kids across this nation are going to school and working as hard as they can for their own futures, we in Congress must go back to Washington and work as hard as we can to improve schools," Rangel said in a written statement. "I call on the Congressional leadership to hold a vote ASAP on the Johnson-Rangel legislation."

"This [bill] has a strong possibility to get passed before the election," said Dan Maffei, press secretary for the House of Representatives Ways and Means Democrats. "Any bill that has the support of the majority of the House and is strongly bipartisan has a good chance to pass."

Diane Weaver Dunne
Education World®
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08/23/2000