Where have all the children gone?
But after Florida's public school enrollment dropped by 8,627 children in 2007-08 -- only the second decline in student population since 1985 -- state planners had suggested we might see a turnaround. They based the 2008-09 education appropriation on 2,631,386 students, an increase of 1,682.
Well, just like the state's continually falling revenue estimates, the enrollment projection is on its way down, too.
In a call with superintendents this week, top Department of Education officials reported that 10th-day counts around Florida now lead them to expect no growth at best, and 6,623 children fewer in 2009-10. Even the five counties that saw their numbers rise last year, including Pasco, are feeling the pinch. (Nearby districts Hernando and Manatee are shrinking, too.)
Many district officials have noted that the lower than predicted enrollment could take millions of dollars from their budgets, a tough reality at a time when they're already trying to cope with rising costs and declining tax income. The only silver lining might be the state's one-year stop-gap funding rule, where districts get 48.67 percent of the budgeted money for each child who was expected but didn't show up.