CUSD school enrollment facing long-term decline - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

CUSD school enrollment facing long-term decline

October 24th, 2021 development
CUSD school enrollment facing long-term decline

By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

The City of Chandler will continue to add about 12,000 new housing units over the next 10 years, but the number of children attending public schools will start to decline.

That is the conclusion of a recent demographic presentation to the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board.

Among the reasons for the downward enrollment trend is that Chandler residents are getting older.

“Our population is aging,” said Rick Brammer, a consultant with Applied Economics LLC, which did the research for the Governing Board.

A closely related reason is housing affordability, which is shutting out young families with school-age children.

“There’s no such thing as really truly entry-level housing available in the district,” Brammer told the board.

There also are other reasons for the anticipated decline in the number of students attending CUSD schools: charter and private schools are attracting more and more students; the birth rate in Arizona has dropped by almost a third since the Great Recession; and the city is approaching build-out so most of the new developments tend to be for smaller families, many of which do not have children.

That trend will likely continue.

“We’re at the normal point of the growth curve of any city the size of Chandler,” said Kevin Mayo, the city’s planning administrator. “You start by running out to your geographical borders, and once you hit them that wave comes back in.”

With fewer and smaller spaces to develop, investors are looking to get the most money they can – which means smaller but denser projects.

Any young couple looking for a home to raise a family is probably looking in Maricopa because of home prices.

The Maricopa Association of Governments reports the median price of home sold in Chandler was $165,000 in 2011. Through July of this year that number has jumped to $419,950.

That has led to the city’s population getting older. MAG reports the median age for a Chandler resident was nearly two years older in 2019 than it was in 2014.

The number of residents 18 and younger has dropped by 3,462 in that six-year period.

All of that leads to fewer children in public schools.

With Chandler at about 90 percent developed, there are fewer spaces to build more housing. However, Scott Wilken, the senior planning project manager for Maricopa Association of Governments, says the city will continue to add housing.

“Cities will keep growing. Tempe is the best example of that,” he said. “They reached build-out years ago, but they’re still growing. The buildings are going up and they’re redeveloping older properties.”

With fewer options, younger families are looking outside of Chandler for homes.

“The demographics … show a shift to an older age group, which is somewhat natural,” Brammer said. “People are staying in their houses longer, they’re living longer, house prices … are keeping people in their houses right now, because you don’t want to move because you can’t afford to buy something else.”

Brammer says there are just under 44,000 students attending CUSD schools this year – an increase of only 28 pupils from the previous year. COVID-19 pandemic forced the district’s first decline since 2000.

CUSD had 45,565 students in 2019. Brammer said officials feared many  parents who pulled their children out of public schools last year would not return, and he says the data proved that to be true.

Brammer’s company predicts CUSD will have only 42,844 students enrolled in the fall of 2030. And more than 6,400 will be children who live outside of the district but choose to attend a CUSD school.

He told the Governing Board it was evidence of the district’s good reputation that 13.3 percent of their current students live outside of the district.

Still, the competition from charter and private schools will only get stronger.

“In this 10-year period, … the number of schools increased from 14 to 24, and their enrollment increased from 4,500 to 11,500,” Brammer said. “They effectively gained 7,000 students, while the district gained 5,500.”

He said that mirrors what is happening around the rest of the state, pointing out enrollment at district schools has not increased since 2010.

The biggest reason why school enrollment will drop, Brammer argues, is that not enough babies are being born in Arizona.

The state’s birth rate dropped 19.2 percent from the time the Great Recession hit in 2008 until the recovery was under way in 2011. Brammer said usually it bounces back up after a big dip.

Not this time. From 2014 until 2020 it has dropped another 16.5 percent. The result of that is in the latest Census data.

In 2000, children 13 and younger made up 22.5 percent of the district’s population. That number remained constant in the 2010 Census, at 22.2 percent. In the 2020 Census it fell to 19.5 percent.

There’s a similar drop in people between the ages of 25 and 44, which are the prime years to raise a family. They made up 47.1 percent of the population in 2000, 41 percent in 2010 and only 36.7 percent a decade later.

Brammer said there may be some short-term increase in enrollment because of a high level of construction projects already started. However, he said the district should expect a decline after that. And he expects to decline even faster as the city ages.

He gave district officials three projections. The best-case scenario for keeping enrollment high would be to get more parents to choose to public schools. And in that case, enrollment would remain about the same.

Otherwise, it’s going down.