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Washington Expects Lower K-12 Enrollment, Rising Costs Through 2025

(The Center Square) – K-12 enrollment is expected to remain below 2016 levels through at least 2025, according to the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council’s June caseload forecast.

Nevertheless, the Office of Financial Management estimates the new forecast will increase state general fund costs by more than $200 million in 2021-23 and about $500 million in 2023-25.

The CFC is charged with forecasting entitlement caseloads in the areas of not just education, but also corrections, public assistance, children’s services, medical assistance, and long term care.

The new forecast for enrollment in common schools is essentially the same as the February forecast, with two additional years.

“So, for K-12, the assumptions in the February forecast remain,” said Paula Moore, CFC senior forecaster, during Wednesday’s virtual meeting. “These were the assumptions both in the November and February forecasts, so it’s tracking well.”

But school enrollment is not expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels for at least the next several years.  

According to the June forecast numbers, enrollment for the 2024-25 school year is forecast to be 1,037,337, which is below the 2016-17 school year enrollment of 1,079,421.

“In 2020-21, Common Schools enrollment declined year-over-year by 3.7 percent due to concerns about COVID-19 and remote/hybrid schooling,” the forecast states. “Some families opted for home-based instruction, private school instruction, or delayed their child’s enrollment in kindergarten. Additional families may have relocated out-of-state. Finally, immigrants moving into Washington State significantly dropped.

“In 2021-22, total enrollment remained flat. Kindergarten and 1st grade public school enrollment rates improved from those of the prior year, though not to pre-pandemic rates. Further, year-over-year declines occurred in grades 4-8 as well as grade 10, Running Start and Open Door. The forecast assumes a shift in the enrollment trajectory. Enrollment will rise less than one percent in 2022-23, followed by limited growth in the 2023-25 Biennium due to declining birth rates and smaller age cohorts progressing through the K-12 system.”

The CFC expects utilization of the College Bound Scholarship Program to continue declining through the 2023-24 school year. The June forecast is 3.3% lower than in February. Likewise, utilization of the Washington College Grant is now forecast to be 4.3% lower than in February and is expected to decline in each year.