Just days after a teachers union lawsuit that tried to take away choice from parents in public schools was thrown out of court, a new report on declining enrollment may reveal the reason Granite State Democrats are fighting so hard to keep students locked into their local schools.
Public schools have lost more than 20 percent of their enrollment over the past two decades.
Enrollment in government-run schools has plunged by more than 40,000 students over the past 20 years, even as taxpayer-funded spending has soared.
“Since 2002, student enrollment numbers in the Granite State have dropped from 207,684 to 165,095, which represents a decrease of 42,589 public school students, or about a 20.5 percent decline during the past 21 years,” the state Department of Education reported. The state’s public schools lost another 2,262 students (1.4 percent of enrollment) in the last year alone.
That 42,589 decline is more students than the entire enrollment of the state’s five biggest school districts combined. (Manchester, Nashua, Bedford, Londonderry, and Concord.)
It’s not a new trend. Axios reported in January that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Granite State public school enrollment fell by 14 percent between Fall 2009 and Fall 2020, the highest decline rate in the U.S.
“Throughout the past two decades, there has been an average decline of nearly 2,200 students per year. While there are multiple factors that result in declining student enrollment, it is apparent that New Hampshire has a lower school-age population,” Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut said in a statement.
At the same time, state and local taxes have flooded into schools at a record pace. State spending per pupil is at an all-time high of more than $6,100, according to Department of Education data. The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy reports the current budget adds $169 million in state money to K-12 spending. That translates to an expected increase of $1 billion over the next decade.
The FY 24-25 budget spends nearly $299 million more in the Education Trust Fund than the previous budget, for a total of about $2.46 billion in the fund.
According to the data from the state, per pupil funding in the Granite State ranges from around $15,000 in communities like Auburn and Strafford, to $38,500 in Pittsburg and nearly $44,000 in Freedom, N.H.
And yet the state Democratic Party, including its leaders in the state legislature, are pushing to increase the amount of money state taxpayers send to public schools. The same for the two Democrats running for governor.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, whose district includes three schools on the list of K-12 public schools failing students so badly they are receiving targeted federal aid, is running on a pledge to “boost the state’s investment in public education.”
Democrat Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, like Craig, is an opponent of Education Freedom Accounts and said she would shut them down and return the money to public schools — including for students currently using the funds to find educational success.
The question some property taxpayers are asking is, if they’re funding school districts with fewer students while receiving more state money, when will their tax bills start to go down?
According to the state Department of Education, “Larger school districts have seen substantial declines in enrollment since 2014, including Manchester with an 18 percent dip, Nashua with a 13 percent drop, and Concord with a 14 percent lag. Some districts that have managed to pick up additional students throughout the past 10 years include Auburn with a 19 percent increase, Bow with a 24 percent raise, and Hollis with an 11 percent increase.”
Added Edelblut, “Schools should be exploring ways to address the short-term and long-term enrollment dip, keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to improve student outcomes.”