With growth comes growing pains -- and questions surrounding how Washington-area school districts will handle the thousands of extra students flooding their halls each year.
Portable classrooms and extra teachers are always options. But in Maryland, where a newly tightened state law requires counties to maintain or increase their per-pupil funding for their school systems, more students mean the budget squeeze is on. And as the states shift teacher pension costs to the counties, more educators mean more expensive employees beyond the usual salaries.
According to a report from Montgomery County's Office of Legislative Oversight, keeping up with the schools' enrollment boom could mean cutting or preventing the growth of other county agencies in the coming years. And because county officials are wary of the economic future, they're hesitant to fund above the absolute minimum required by the state and get locked in to a higher funding level.
"Given that next year's budget is dire already, clearly we'd take a substantial risk going above [it]," said Councilman Hans Riemer, D-at large, at a hearing last week.
The school system in Prince George's relies more heavily on the state for funding and spends almost half of what Montgomery does per pupil, putting the county in safer straits.
It's not clear what record enrollment growth in the District will mean for expected school closings, likely to be announced in November. While DC Public Schools' enrollment is stabilizing and appears to have grown by a few hundred students since last year, it's still a much smaller school system than it used to be, and the city is looking to shed buildings. Initial counts show 11 percent growth in the city's charter schools, exacerbating the need for new facilities to meet the demand for charter seats.
"We look forward to the day when no D.C. family must choose to send their children to anything less than a high-performing school," said Brian Jones, chairman of the DC Public Charter School Board. - Lisa Gartner