While student enrollment has dropped so low in some states that officials have had to combine schools, nationally there is a record number of students. The growth is concentrated in the South and West and shows no sign of abating, putting pressure on already inadequate school buildings, a new report by the U.S. Department of Education says.
Next year, Nevada will lead the nation with a 42 percent enrollment increase. U.S. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley was in Las Vegas Monday to release a special back-to-school report called "Growing Pains: The Challenge of Overcrowded Schools is Here to Stay."
According to projections by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) school enrollment will continue at record levels over the next decade and will increase for the rest of the century.
"During the 21st century we will never go back to a time when we are free of growing pains. We have a century of growth ahead of us a crescendo of children. Growth is the new and unwavering demographic constant," Riley said. Currently the majority of the growth is at the high school level.
The growth stems from the Baby-Boom Echo. School age children over the next decade are the grandchildren of the Baby Boomers (Americans born between 1948-1975). There has also been an increase in immigration to the United States over the last 20 years.
California and Texas will be hit the hardest over the next decade. California can expect 278,000 more students and Texas 219,000, the report says.
But other states are also expected to see rapid growth, such as Idaho (14 percent), New Mexico (12 percent) and Alaska (10 percent.)
Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois,North Carolina, Utah and Wyoming, can also expect big increases.
This school year there are 53 million students enrolled, by 2020 there will be 55 million, by 2030, 60 million and by 2100 there will be 94 million children in America's schools.
Riley used the report to urge Congress to pass a school construction bill co-sponsored by Nancy Johnson (R-Conn) and Charles Rangel (D-NY) which would set aside $25 billion in new tax credit bonds to modernize schools.
"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," Riley said.
The report praises Ohio and New Jersey for undertaking "massive" school construction efforts. Ohio's legislative plan provides $23 Billion over the next 12 years to fix ailing schools.
New Jersey passed the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act this summer which provides $8.6 billion to school districts to fix facilities and make long range plans to deal with student increases.
"We need to figure out where we will put these children, and who will teach them," Riley said.