Op-Ed: Solution must meet the coming demands

5f17bd50a561b image 1 1 1My Op-Ed ran in today’s  Moscow-Pullman Daily News. It examines how the Moscow School District has 25% more teachers for 21% fewer children. 

Last May I mentioned that Moscow’s world-famous labor market analytics firm, Emsi, released a free, 41-page eBook titled “The Demographic Drought.” Emsi examined demographic, education, and labor market data, exploring how COVID-19 hastened our future. I recommend that everyone read it (https://bit.ly/3b7teIE).

In that Op-ed, I discussed how there are simply not enough Gen-Xers and Millennials to make up for the loss of Boomers in the workforce. By 2028 there will be a deficit of 6 million US workers. Furthermore, Biden and the Democrats have driven the US national debt to 128% of GDP and are proposing an additional $6t of debt. The Democrats think it is impossible to bankrupt the US and are out to prove themselves right.

The Emsi report also discussed the effect of fewer children enrolled in school and university. As a result of the demographic drought, we have 6 million fewer students going to school. Today, I want to look at that effect on the Moscow School District (MSD).

The US birthrate peaked between 1945-1959. In fact, except for 2008, we’ve been below the 2.1 replacement rate for 50 years, and the US population growth is now the lowest in recorded history. Most of the US’s actual growth is from immigration, but even that is not sustainable. The top three countries that account for immigration into the US (Mexico, India, and China) also have declining birthrates. In about 40 years, the US and the world as a whole are projected to start losing population, with a total decline of 2 billion people by 2099. Paul Erlich’s 1968 “The Population Bomb” could not have been more wrong.

In 2019 there were 1.2 million high school dropouts. Covid and remote instruction exacerbated that number in 2020. A well-known study from Stanford University found that K12 students attending online schools are, on average, a half-year behind in reading and an entire year behind in math. How much more so for K12 students taught in hastily implemented Zoom classes? Many predict that government school kids lost a full year of education during the year of Covid.

Moscow has already experienced the effect of this declining birthrate. MSD reached its highest enrollment thirty years ago back in 1991 with 2,737 students and has had a steady decline ever since. 2020-2021 enrollment is merely 2,160 students. I say merely because according to the US Census Bureau, Moscow has grown by 29% since 1991 while MSD enrollment has shrunk by 21%.

Where have all the children gone? First, because of the declining US birth rate, they were never born. Second, liberals have fewer kids than conservatives, so there are fewer children in progressive Moscow to attend the government schools. MSD recognized this reality back in 2012 when they reorganized 9th graders into Moscow High School and 6th graders into Moscow Middle School. There were already fewer children nine years ago, so those buildings could accommodate the drop in enrollment.

One obvious question Moscow taxpayers should ask is why do we need more MSD teachers, staff, and administrators for 21% fewer children?

  • In 2005 there were 2,434 students and 179 teachers.
  • In 2020 there were 2,160 students and 224 teachers.

That bloat does not include the additional administrators and staff. One effective tactic would be to reduce the number of MSD employees back down to the 2005 levels.

Reducing the number of school buildings would be a second effective tactic, especially with elementary enrollment at MSD down 490 students from its peak and with ever fewer students coming in. The smallest schools (West Park with 156 students and Russell with 154 students) could easily be assimilated into the remaining elementary schools.

Moscow’s economic setting is changing, and the Moscow School District is a central part of it. In a world with fewer students, fewer taxpayers, skyrocketing property values and property taxes, and a partisan city council with an insatiable appetite to tax and spend, local government costs should be handled closely to accommodate the changing financial climate. As we look to cut costs, following the money leads to the fact that MSD absorbs fully half of our property taxes. Without being surprised or fooled by the data, we must apply straightforward solutions to meet the demands coming our way.