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Growing Idaho: Study shows need for more than 100 new schools by 2030

A study commissioned by BLUUM shows there could be more than 42,000 more K-12 students in the state by 2030, compared to 2020.

BOISE, Idaho — As the state of Idaho grows in population, Gem State school populations are growing as well. A new study by Idaho non-profit BLUUM showed Idaho will need to build 104 new schools by 2030.

The study, Idaho Charter Market Analysis: Exploring Growth Opportunities for Idaho Charter Schools, was commissioned by BLUUM and research was conducted by research firm Public Impact, who used data from the 2020 U.S. Census. Data showed at Idaho's current growth rate, there could be more than 42,000 more K-12 students in the state by 2030, compared to 2020.

"I think the numbers were bigger than we thought," said BLUUM CEO, Terry Ryan. 

According to the report, across all age groups combined, Idaho’s population is expected to grow in 29 of its 44 counties over the next 10 years. The counties with the highest growth rates are Ada (26.1%), Canyon (23.6%) and Kootenai (21.2%).

The study showed kindergarten through eighth-grade populations are expected to see the most growth, with a rate of growth of 39,480 more K–8 students than in 2020. BLUUM said an average Idaho elementary school size is 403 students, which means the state would need about 98 schools by 2030.

However, high school-aged students will see smaller numbers with nearly 3,000 more students in the state than in 2020. The study said six new high schools would need to be built to meet the growth.

"There's a lot of work ahead for those of us who are in education in Idaho," Ryan said. "I think for most educators that's an exciting prospect but it's also a bit daunting."

One of the growing school districts in Canyon County, Vallivue School District, is going for a $55 million bond at the March 8 election that will plan for growth.

 According to the Vallivue School District website, four of its seven elementary schools are already over capacity and two more are projected to follow in 2024. The district plans to use the money to build new schools, purchase land for future sites and more.

Ryan noted the numbers used for the study were "pre-pandemic," so he would not be surprised if there were even more students in 2030 because of the number of people who moved to the Gem State within the last couple of years.

Growing population trends in the state aside, the study stated Idaho would still need more than 60,500 "high quality" seats in new or improved schools" because of the 119 "underperforming existing schools."

"If you look at them over time their results on state assessments are lower on average than schools similar to their status," Ryan explained.

According to the study, those schools are in the Boise area (particularly Meridian, Nampa, and Kuna) and along highway I-15 in southeastern Idaho. 

"Meeting this challenge will require a concerted effort across sectors, likely involving creating new charter schools, opening new traditional public schools, and taking steps to boost performance in chronically underperforming schools," the study writes. "Fortunately, these projections cover the next decade. If Idaho policymakers, philanthropy and education leaders act now, they can provide students with the high-quality school options they deserve in the coming years."

BLUUM partners with agencies like J.A. and the Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to help create and fund new charter schools in the state.

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