School Population Trends are Changing

Oct 1, 2018

Schools in Virginia’s urban areas are bursting at the seams, growing faster than they have the capacity to handle.

But some of those students might be heading to the suburbs soon.

Before the Great Recession, families with children would leave cities like Alexandria and Charlottesville before their kids were old enough for Kindergarten. The economic crash changed that, though, and enrollment in cities spiked while growth in suburban schools slowed or even declined in some cases. Now something different is happening.

Credit Demographics Research Group and Va. Dept. of Education

Hamilton Lombard at the University of Virginia points out that over the last couple of years, the share of children born in Virginia cities who later enroll in city schools has fallen. “Overall, it’s probably a welcome trend on both sides," Lombard says. "City school divisions, a lot of them have been dealing with overcrowding, and I think they welcome to see enrollment growth just come down a bit, slowing a little bit. And in a lot of the suburban divisions, when they’ve had declining enrollment, wouldn’t mind seeing it declining a little more slowly or even a little growth.”

Terry Clower at George Mason University says there’s something else at work here too. It’s not just that wealthy families are decamping for the burbs. “What we are seeing is not only that there are more kids in the schools. What’s also presenting a challenge is that the demographics of those kids is dramatically changing.”

Read more from the Demographics Research Group at UVA

Some of the wealthiest cities in Virginia are seeing a dramatic rise in students who qualify for free and reduced price lunches — an indication of rising poverty in unexpected places.

The University of Virginia is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.

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