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School enrollment falls short of projections

Florida has about 17,000 fewer students in its kindergarten-to-high school system than lawmakers anticipated this year, a new report shows.

The state budget, passed during the 2018 Legislative Session, included funding for 2.848 million K-12 students in the 2018-2019 academic year. But a report released Wednesday by the Legislature’s Office of Demographic and Economic Research included a revised forecast, showing 17,142 fewer students enrolled than expected in the 67 school districts, for a total of 2.831 million.

“Most of the revision is due to less than expected net in-migration to the public school system, combined with fewer than expected hurricane-affected students remaining in 2018-19 from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” according to the report, which is based on a meeting of state analysts last week.

The report said about half of the students who enrolled in Florida schools in the 2017-2018 academic year because of hurricane damage in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are expected to remain this year and in the next few years.

The report said there was “no supporting data” to make any revisions related to Hurricane Michael, which struck the Florida Panhandle in October. The report makes the assumption that if students were displaced from their storm-damaged schools, they remained in-state and would not impact the overall calculation.

The revised forecast means school enrollment is only projected to grow by 7,955 students this year, or 0.28 percent over the prior year. It is the smallest annual increase since the 2008-2009 academic year, when Florida schools were losing students because of the impact of the economic recession.

The K-12 enrollment is expected to grow by 11,845 students during the 2019-2020 school year, or a 0.42 percent increase over this year. That increased enrollment will have to be accommodated when lawmakers pass a new state budget in the spring.

In the longer term, the K-12 enrollment annual growth rate is projected to remain below 1 percent through 2023-2024, according to the report. A peak of more than 23,000 new students, or a 0.81 percent increase, is projected in the 2021-2022 school year.

The report notes the revised calculation is not part of a formal enrollment projection included in the Florida Education Finance Program, which distributes funding to the 67 school districts. Another enrollment calculation will be made in the spring to create the basis for the funding formula in the 2019-2020 budget year.

The K-12 enrollment report includes some pre-school students with disabilities and some pre-school students whose parents are in the Teenage Parent Program. But the bulk of pre-school students enrolled in the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program are included in a separate calculation.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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