The degenerative disease of school overcrowding continues to spread across the country, inflicting damage on the ability of students to learn and administrators to keep order.
Unfortunately, Virginia has no cure, and so we, too, must suffer the symptoms.
Researchers at the University of Virginia say that the state can expect swelling enrollment in public schools during the next five years. That is in addition to the record number of students already attending. Our current numbers have their positive aspects — in 2009-10, a record 88,624 high school graduates are expected, and getting educated adults out into the population is good by any standard. However, graduation rates are expected to hit their high in the 2011-2012 school year and then start declining.
Meanwhile, large school enrollment without accompanying growth in infrastructure means overcrowding — something nobody likes. We have all witnessed the results: trailers, large classroom sizes, less personal attention for students and children being lost in the crowd.
News of the expected increase in enrollment over the next five years is particularly bad for Northern Virginia because our jurisdictions are the ones expected to be hardest hit by the growth. Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties will make up 85 percent of the increase across the state. In fact, in other parts of the state, enrollment will actually decrease.
So, what does all of this mean for the three most affected counties? We need more schools and more teachers. Sadly, this is the absolute worst time for such necessities. Financial worries have led jurisdictions across the country to slash budgets, including those for education. But there is no doubt that regardless of economic woes, accommodations will have to be made for extra students.
Prince William County is busy building four new schools — two elementary, one middle and a high school. Local officials recognize that the county is in something of a unique situation and that action needed to be taken.
“We are definitely building at a rapid pace,” said Lionel White, supervisor of planning for the Prince William County school system. “Given the state of the economy, a lot of school systems’ growth is flat or they are losing schools. People, though, are coming here, buying homes. . . . We’re a little atypical compared to the rest of the state.”
Loudon and Fairfax are in the same boat, and all three jurisdictions need to recognize that for the next five years, expectations will be on them to satisfy the demands of a growing student marketplace.
To read a press release about the University of Virginia Study, go to UVA’s website.
To read more about the new schools coming to Prince William County, click here.