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Declining Birth Rates May Transform Virginia Schools

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The declining birth rate is having an influence over planning in school divisions across Virginia. It's a discussion that's playing out while lawmakers are trying to figure out what to do with stimulus money.

Births in Virginia are now the lowest they've been at since the late 1990’s, a time when Virginia's population was 25% smaller. If the birth rate continues to sag, that'll mean enrollment in schools is likely to go down.

Erika Gulick at Alexandria City Public Schools says even though she’s expecting kindergarten enrollment to pick up next year, school officials are also making long-term choices about the future of their facilities.

"For example, we recently converted an office building into a school. That could potentially be converted back into an office building," Gulick says. "When we build new school facilities, we're making sure to include community spaces as well as family resources so that those programs can kind of ebb and flow."

The lower birth rates are coming at a time when lawmakers are considering how they should spend more than four billion dollars in stimulus money. Chad Stewart at the Commonwealth Institute says they should consider investing in school facilities so they play a role beyond educating children.

"One way to do this is through a community schools model," Stewart says. "Community schools are hubs and direct local and state and federal resources to school buildings to provide additional services to students and families."

Now, lawmakers are currently hearing from every interest group in Virginia, each with a list of funding priorities in advance of the special session at the beginning of August.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.