WASHINGTON — More than 20 million children will reach high school age in four years, posing daunting challenges for school districts already coping with classroom crowding and teacher shortages.
Nationally, the number of children age 10-to-14 increased 20 percent the past decade to 20.5 million, according to the 2000 census.
A 10-year-old in 2000 would be 14 in 2004, the age by which most students start high school.
The number of children age 4 and under – those who will be able to start elementary school over the next four years – increased 4 percent to 19.2 million in 2000.
“We are finding even more schools in more places holding classes in hallways, and increasing class sizes in an age when we are talking about the need to reduce it,” said Kathleen Lyons, spokeswoman for the National Education Association.
Preparing for the expected onslaught of students “really comes down to finances,” she said.
The 10-to-14 category – mainly children of the large baby boom generation – increased in nearly all states.
The nation’s fastest-growing states saw surges in the under-5 population as well, as booming economies drew young couples from other states.
Both age brackets were also affected by a higher-than-projected count of Hispanics, analysts said.
There may also be more kids ready to start school soon than tallied because children under 5 are typically missed more in a census than other age groups, said demographer Martha Farnsworth Riche, a former head of the Census Bureau.
Nevada had an 83 percent increase in children age 10-to-14 during the decade, and a 58 percent rise in the number of kids age 4 and under.
Arizona’s 10-to-14 population grew 46 percent, while its 4-and-under population increased 31 percent during the same span.
Jennifer Schmidt, the mother of a high school sophomore and a 1-year-old, said things have to improve soon no matter what the reason for the increase.
“I just found out my daughter doesn’t have a place to sit during lunchtime — she sits in the hallway,” said Schmidt, of Silver Spring, Md.
The 10-to-14 population in this Washington suburb increased 33 percent during the 1990s.
“When my 1-year-old gets to that age, we’ve been thinking about moving or putting him through private school,” she said.
Overcrowding, teacher shortages and inadequate instruction for non-English-speaking students are challenges schools in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have long encountered. Now those issues are causing headaches in 1990s boom areas like Las Vegas.
The Clark County, Nev., school district, which includes Las Vegas, forecasts it will adds between 10,000 and 15,000 new students a year.
Ten new school buildings opened this school year, with 15 new ones scheduled to be completed by the end of next school year.
Cartwright Elementary School in Las Vegas had 21 portable classrooms in its playground last school year to help educate 1,400 students – over 700 more than capacity.
Schools that opened nearby helped ease the burden this school year, reducing Cartwright’s enrollment to 880, requiring just six portable classrooms.
“It’s been very challenging. We try to do as little disruption as possible for the kids,” said Cartwright’s principal, Emily Aguero.
“But when you come and look at the growth out here, parents know that there isn’t really much choice.”
Lyons said the federal government can lift part of the burden by stepping in to build new schools. Other solutions that have long been proposed include better pay and benefits to hire and retain new teachers.
Demographers have attributed much of the population growth in children to a higher-than-expected count of Hispanics in most states.
The number of Hispanics under age 18 increased 59 percent during the decade, with North Carolina’s 401 percent gain larger than any other state.
“Many of those unexpected children were Hispanic. They are the children of those families who immigrated” to the United States during the 1990s, Riche said.
Nevada led the nation with a 43 percent growth in non-Hispanics under 18, but saw also saw a 245 percent increase in the number of Hispanics in the same age bracket.
Nearly 1 in 3 kids under 18 in Nevada were Hispanic.
The federal government considers “Hispanic” an ethnicity, not a race; therefore, people of Hispanic ethnicity can be of any race.
More detailed age breakdowns by race and ethnicity will be released later this year.
On the Net:
Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov
National Education Association: http://www.nea.org/