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Michigan’s population is rapidly aging: School closures on the horizon due to enrollment decline and financial struggles

Michigan – As Michigan’s school boards start planning their budgets for the 2024-25 school year, they face hard choices due to fewer students. And school closures could be on the horizon because of this.

A recent study by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan warns that a drop in the state’s population (meaning fewer students) and a deadline by late September for schools to use up federal COVID relief funds could cause schools to close.

This is happening because the federal funds, totaling around $6 billion for Michigan’s schools, helped soften the blow from having fewer students. Now, with a June 30 deadline to finalize budgets, schools need to figure out how to adjust without this money.

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“When those federal resources go away, districts are going to have to right size their budgets,” said Craig Thiel, research director at the nonpartisan research organization.

Michigan population is ageing and schools are expected to close due to low enrollment and financial struggles for districts

Michigan is rapidly getting older, and there are a lot fewer kids in public schools now compared to 20 years ago. Since 2003, the state saw a 16% drop in public-school students, with just 1.4 million enrolled in the 2022-23 school year.

The pandemic made things even tougher. Many families decided to teach their kids at home or send them to private schools, leading to fewer students in public schools. The biggest school district, DPSCD, lost 2,000 students, leaving it with about 49,000 this year.

Thiel had a chat with Chalkbeat for their Facts Matter podcast, where he discussed this situation and another report about how the state is helping some struggling school districts with their debts. This is part of what Thiel told Chalkbeat.

The Michigan population is declining and that has negative impact on education

Michigan’s population isn’t growing much, but within that steady number, big shifts are happening. Mainly, the state is getting older, with more elderly people and fewer young ones, especially kids who are in school.

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Looking ahead, this trend of an aging population isn’t stopping. Public schools have been facing fewer students since around 2003. Back then, there were about 1.7 million kids in school, but now there are under 1.4 million. Almost all of Michigan’s over 800 school districts have seen a drop in students, with some feeling it more than others.

People have been leaving city centers for the suburbs, both in urban and rural areas, leading to stagnant or declining populations in these places. This means there are fewer kids around almost everywhere in Michigan, not just in certain spots.

COVID-19 and pandemic relief funding

The federal government has helped schools a lot by giving them money to stay open during tough times and to help kids catch up after missing school. This money sort of hid the problem of not having enough state money for a while.

But when this federal money runs out, schools will need to adjust their budgets. They’ll realize that having fewer students has also made it harder to get money. So, schools are facing two big problems at once: fewer students and the end of federal money. This means schools will soon have to make some tough money choices when the federal funds stop at the end of 2024.

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Read the full conversation here.