WNPR

Enrollment Decline in Connecticut Schools Among Fastest in the Nation

Jun 15, 2015

Only Michigan and Ohio have lost more students, according to the U.S. Census.

Colebrook School is tiny. One of its classes has only seven students. It’s so small that for the last two years, there’s been an effort to merge it with the elementary school in neighboring Norfolk. 

Colebrook’s school board chairman, Jeanne Jones, said it’s the only way to solve the enrollment decline problem.

“We crunched a lot of numbers and pulled together a system where we can share in the savings from the get-go,” Jones said. 

Declining enrollment is an issue across Connecticut. The state's public schools have lost a higher percentage of students than nearly every state in the country -- only Michigan and Ohio have lost more, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 73 percent of Connecticut’s public schools saw a decline in enrollment between 2012 and 2013, according to the state Department of Education.

It's happening partly because people are moving to the southwestern United States, where jobs are more plentiful, said Donald Kennedy of NESDEC, a group that helps school districts with management issues.

Kennedy said that districts in other New England states have been consolidating for some time, but not in Connecticut, where the enrollment decline started more recently.

"It's a very politically controversial topic, because, obviously districts want to retain as much local control as they can. That's a New England piece of our history," Kennedy said.

Jonathan Costa is the director of school and program services at Education Connection, a regional public education service center. Costa said that more regionalized services would help reduce costs and mitigate enrollment declines, but legislation should be updated to help districts that want to consolidate.

"Basically what you're seeing now is the incentive to regionalize is not growth, but it's the reducing of enrollment, it's the reduction in size," Costa said. "So the things that were built in as incentives before make no sense now."

Regionalizing school districts is the answer Colebrook and Norfolk have chosen to pursue. If approved by the state Board of Education and the town's voters, Colebrook would become the first town in the state without an elementary school.

Interactive map by Charlie Smart.