Thursday, November 10, 2011

Enrollment report highlights challenges for public schools

A new report from the Texas Education Agency on enrollment in Texas public schools has some interesting information district leaders may want to share when talking about challenges in public education.

Former State Demographer Steve Murdock for years has been warning of a population trend of declining numbers of Anglos in Texas and a growing number of minorities. Murdock, also the former U.S. Census Bureau director and now director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University, says between 2000 and 2040, the state's public school enrollment will see a 15 percent decline in Anglo children, while Hispanic children will make up a 213 percent increase.

Why is this alarming? Because education and income levels for Hispanics lag considerably behind Anglos, Murdock told the Houston Chronicle earlier this year. If the trend continues, by 2040 roughly 30 percent of the state's labor force will not even have a high school diploma and the average household income will be $6,500 lower than in 2000 - and that's not adjusted for inflation.

TEA's report shows the trend is indeed continuing and that Texas public school districts are facing their biggest challenge yet. The students filling Texas classrooms come with greater challenges and needs than ever before, yet instead of more resources to help these children, school leaders are reeling from a $5.4 billion cut to education funding delivered to them this year by state lawmakers.

According to the report, there are now 4.9 million students enrolled in Texas public schools, a 21.2 percent increase over the past decade.

Between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, African American and Hispanic enrollment increased, while enrollment of white students decreased.

Hispanics had the largest numerical increase in enrollment between 2009-10 and 2010-11, growing by 81,316 in just one year. Last school year Hispanic students accounted for 50.3 percent of total enrollment in Texas public schools.

The percentage of economically disadvantaged students  has risen in step with the increase in minority students. A decade ago, there were just over 2 million economically disadvantaged students in Texas public schools, or 49.2 percent of all students. By last school year there were nearly 3 million economically disadvantaged students, accounting for 59.1 percent of all students.

Let's break those numbers down a little further and make some comparisons: The overall public school population from 2000-01 to 2010-11 increased by 21.5 percent, while the number of economically disadvantaged students increased by 45.5 percent. And according to Murdock, that trend will continue.

Also over the past decade, the number of students receiving bilingual or English as a second language services increased by 56.4 percent and the number of limited English proficient students grew by 45.8 percent.

These numbers come as no surprise to educators, but they are a stark and definitive reminder of what schools are facing and they should paint a pretty clear picture of what kind of stakes we're playing with when we shortchange public education. 

If this report isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is.

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