Student enrollment in Maryland’s largest school district is expected to surge again during the coming school year, hitting a new high and helping to drive broader gains that could set a statewide record.
Maryland education officials said Tuesday that if projected trends hold, the state could top 870,000 students for the first time.
The enrollment spike comes as Montgomery County is forecasting that 156,514 students will attend classes during the school year that begins Aug. 31. That number includes 2,662 more students than last year, which would be the largest one-year uptick since 2000.
“It’s another big increase, another big jump to absorb,” said Bruce Crispell, director of long-range planning for Montgomery schools.
As Montgomery is anticipating growth, so, too, are those in other school districts along the Baltimore-Washington corridor, including Prince George’s, Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. All have projected increases of nearly 1,000 students or higher, according to district officials.
Maryland’s statewide enrollment last peaked in 2004, with 869,000 students in the public schools, then slipped for five years before rising again. Last year, the count was 866,000 students; percentages of Hispanic and Asian students have been on the rise, officials said.
“We’ve never crossed the 870,000-student threshold before,” said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education. “This may be the year.”
In Montgomery, the state’s fastest-growing school system, the total increase in students since 2007 would be more than 18,700 if this year’s projections bear out. Last school year, the county’s enrollment climbed by 2,563 students.
“When you look at the numbers, it’s pretty stark,” said Montgomery Board of Education Vice President Michael Durso. “I think it exacerbates the issue of budget challenges and space and capacity. We’re just always trying to catch up.”
For the coming school year, middle and high schools are expected to be hit hardest by the enrollment bulge. “It’s the continuing movement of larger grades going into the secondary level,” Crispell said.
Enrollment at the elementary level is plateauing districtwide, though there might be differences from school to school, he said. The district’s overall forecast reflects trends in birthrates, family migration into Montgomery and more populated grades aging up through the school system.
Amanda Graver, a longtime PTA leader in Montgomery, said the anticipated enrollment increase adds to concerns about crowding in classrooms and on school buses. “A lot of these schools are already maxed as far as what they can handle,” she said.
Montgomery officials say four elementary schools will open this year with classroom additions: Bethesda, North Chevy Chase, Arcola and Rosemary Hills. Clarksburg High will open with an 18-classroom addition, and in January, a major renovation and expansion at Wheaton High School is slated for completion. The district will use 378 portable classroom trailers, 26 fewer than last year, Crispell said. He also said that, in spite of the added enrollment at secondary schools, middle and high schools have a greater ability than elementary schools to handle a small degree of over-enrollment through scheduling changes.
As Montgomery’s enrollment has risen, the student population has shifted, with Hispanic students now accounting for the largest racial or ethnic group in kindergarten through second grade.
In Prince George’s, enrollment for the new school year is projected at about 129,000, up from 127,561 students last year. Anne Arundel expects an uptick of about 1,400 students, to more than 80,000, the most ever. Baltimore County’s projection is 111,460 students, and Howard’s is 53,430.