BOISE, Idaho — This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
High housing prices affect everything in the Treasure Valley, including school enrollment, funding and staffing.
Major school districts in the Treasure Valley are weathering declining or stagnant enrollment, in part because the housing market continues to squeeze out middle- and lower-class earners.
For example, the Nampa School District’s student population is declining. One major reason: Young families with kids can’t afford to buy houses in the area, school officials said. In Nampa, unlike other parts of the Treasure Valley, there aren’t many apartments, which can serve as less-expensive family housing solutions.
Empty nesters have been moving to the area, instead of parents and their young kids.
“2000 to 2010 was booming. We were building schools kind of like West Ada,” Nampa School District Director of Communications Kathleen Tuck said. “It used to be that in Nampa you could come out here and you could get a really good little starter home for a good price. That’s not true anymore.”
This market has resulted in lower-than-normal elementary school enrollments, but secondary schools that are still pretty full, Tuck said.
Another big factor is declining birth rates, Tuck said.
Additionally, students are still spread out over Nampa, so all the schools need to be functional, Tuck said. Schools’ state funding is based on enrollment, so the district’s declining enrollments result in less money for schools that are still full enough to stay open.
Plus, buildings continue to age and the district still needs the same number of teachers.
The student population is not in a rapid decline, Executive Director of Operations Cortney Stauffer said. But as kids graduate, not as many new students come in.
Many families either have children who have moved out or children who are nearing the end of high school, Stauffer said.
There are other factors impacting the drop in enrollment in the Nampa School District, like more charter and private schools.
People tend to drive until they find a home they can afford, the Idaho Press previously reported. Areas on the outskirts of the Treasure Valley, like Mountain Home, Marsing and Emmett, have begun seeing population growth as a result.
And closer to home, Middleton is seeing population growth and near-capacity schools.
Middleton, a city of about 10,000, grew almost 8% from spring 2020 to summer 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The school district is “currently experiencing significant growth,” officials wrote in a letter to the city.
Officials said in the letter two of the three elementary schools are over capacity. The high school and middle school are close but not at capacity yet.
“Each new development brings new students to our school and will increase the burden placed on taxpayers within the school district,” officials wrote. “New facilities, primarily an elementary school, are needed now, but additional students could continue to increase that need.”
The West Ada School District has similar growing pains.
Last November, former West Ada school board chair Amy Johnson warned the Meridian City Council that the school and city will experience “a significant amount of pain,” if leaders couldn’t figure out how to manage growth and fund schools.
Meridian had been delaying some annexations while the city met with the school district to address growth and incoming students. In one of those meetings, West Ada outlined a need for eight new schools.
Several Meridian officials have called on the state legislature to provide impact fees for school funding. Impact fees are fees levied on new developers for services like police and fire departments, to help those entities maintain their levels of service amid population growth.
In the Boise School District, growth has been stagnant for around 10 years, Boise School District Communications Specialist Ryan Hill said.
Part of the issue is that Boise has largely filled out and a lot of infill development and new construction is multifamily dwellings like apartment complexes, which typically house fewer kids. Ada County birthrates are also down, which Hill suggested could be due to rising incomes and gentrification.
In addition, the families moving to Boise have fewer children, Hill said.
The district also lost around 1,800 students during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it was to out-of-state moves or switches to charter schools or homeschooling. And acting as an accelerant to all this is the fact that rising home prices are pushing out new families.
“There’s this perception out there, because the valley has grown so much, because there’s so many people moving here, that schools are bursting at the seams,” Hill said. “In our district, that is certainly not the case.”
Some schools are at capacity but others are “quite a bit under capacity.”
State funding is primarily tied to school enrollment, which means the drop in students led to a drop in state revenue funding. However, the Boise School District was able to use other means, such as COVID-19 relief funds, to fill in the gap.
The biggest response to enrollment downturns is hiring, which means the Boise School District would need fewer teachers if there are fewer students.
Affordable housing also impacts the ability to hire. Even with better pay, many teachers cannot find an affordable, adequate home.
The Nampa School District echoed similar concerns. As demographics change in the valley, younger workers for entry level school jobs like working in the cafeteria or driving the bus can often not be available.
“Right now, maybe people are moving out to Middleton and they’re moving out to Melba and Parma,” Tuck said. “But at some point they’re just going to keep having to move farther and farther out.”
Carolyn Komatsoulis covers Boise, Meridian and Ada County. Contact her at 208-465-8107 and follow her on Twitter @CKomatsoulis.
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