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Time To Look At Regional High Schools To Help County Taxpayers

In one year, public enrollment in Chautauqua County decreased roughly 400 times more than it usually does.

Over the previous nine years, school enrollment has decreased by an average of about 190 students a year with enrollment decreasing in eight of those nine years. The 2020-21 decrease in enrollment of 820 students drops the county’s public school enrollment to less than 19,000 and is the biggest decrease recorded over the past 10 years.

Experts blame COVID-19 for this year’s decrease, and that is likely the case. But policy makers shouldn’t let this one-year cratering in school enrollment paper over what has been a longtime problem. Chautauqua County is spending more money than ever to educate fewer students each year — a fact that will be even more true with the influx of federal stimulus money into school budgets over the next two years. Enrollment has decreased by an average of 1.12% over the past 10 years, with highs of 399 total students lost in 2015-16 and 820 students lost in 2020-21. Only once has enrollment actually increased as a county, and that was by 17 students in 2014-15.

The problem is how does one change the overall system to address the population loss? Cumulatively county schools are dealing with about roughly 100 fewer students a year, but individual school districts may see much smaller decreases each year. They may trim a classroom position here or there, but the decreases are so small they have little overall effect. Taxpayers spend more to educate fewer students.

For years many have been bullish on the use of remote learning to decrease the cost of education in New York. After a year of online learning, people are less enthusiastic to have children sitting in front of a tablet in an empty room without a teacher. Children need the socialization and many students have showed demonstrably better results learning in a classroom rather than at home.

In our opinion, that means it’s time to turn our attention to regional high schools, which could give education an economy of scale and broaden elective offerings — especially in rural schools where enrolllment trends are going the wrong way long before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

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