Influx of Students Likely by 2010

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 3, 2006

Tens of thousands more students are expected to join classrooms in Northern Virginia's fast-growing outer counties by 2010, further taxing strained resources, according to a study released yesterday.

The number of students in Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties will increase by about 48,400, according to a study of birth rates and U.S. Census data released by the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center.

The study also shows that Prince William will probably become the second-largest school district in the state by fall 2007, surpassing Virginia Beach, where a decline in the birth rate and far-reaching development controls have led to annual enrollment dips.

But the majority of Virginia's 132 school systems, including Fairfax and Arlington counties as well as Alexandria, will experience declines in enrollment, according to the study. Statewide, the number of kindergarten-12 students in public schools will rise by about 30,000 by 2010, bringing the total enrollment to 1.22 million, up from 1.2 million this year.

The increase in students will add at least $275 million in state, local and federal costs, the study said.

Michael Spar, a research associate at the Weldon Cooper Center who conducted the study, attributes the growth to a rise in in-state births and more child-rearing parents moving to the state than leaving.

The number of births in Virginia climbed steadily after 2000, fueling major increases in elementary school-age children. The study projects that trend will continue and that there will be about 667,000 elementary-schoolers statewide by 2010. Smaller increases are expected among high school students, and the number of middle-schoolers is expected to decline.

"These poor planners in Loudoun and Prince William, they just have to build schools like crazy," Spar said. "There's only so many kids you can put into trailers before you bite the bullet and build more schools. Every time you build a new school, then you have to change attendance boundary zones. Parents don't like it, and it adds stress to the system."

In Prince William, where about 200 trailers accommodate an overflow of students, officials are concerned that the persistent growth will take more money than expected from instruction. Building materials such as steel and drywall are becoming more expensive, which can greatly affect budgets for curriculum initiatives and personnel.

With little land left to build on, Prince William school officials are studying how much classroom space can be added to schools, said George Kisha, associate superintendent for finance and support services.

Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles), a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, said he is wary about the thousands of defense industry workers who will soon be moved to Fort Belvoir and Quantico Marine Corps Base. He said that for several years, Prince William has planned for 18,000 new residents a year but that the recent base realignment decisions could bring far more drastic changes.

"It's going to change the paradigm," he said. "This is a population influx we hadn't planned for."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company