Topeka The state of Kansas may be experiencing another “baby boom,” similar to the one after World War II that ultimately changed the fabric of American society.
But unlike the post-war boom, which was driven by soldiers returning home to a nation teeming with new economic expansion, experts say this new baby boom is being driven by something else entirely: remarkably high birth rates within one segment of the population, Hispanics.
A new study by the Kansas Association of School Boards predicts that within five years as many as 25,000 additional students will be enrolled in Kansas public schools, pushing total enrollment above 500,000 for the first time since 1970.
“Most of that is due to births (among Hispanics), as opposed to any kind of migration into the state,” said Ted Carter, a researcher at KASB who authored the report. “We're seeing a lot of births in the Hispanic community throughout the state.”
That is not a new trend. According to the report, total student enrollment has been growing slowly but steadily since the 2006-2007 school year. But without the growth among Hispanics, total enrollment actually would have been declining since the late 1990s.
Within the next five years, Carter estimates that Hispanics will make up 22 percent of the total student body in Kansas — up from less than 5 percent in the early 1990s. Whites by that time will make up just 60 percent of the student body, compared with 85 percent in the 1992-1993 school year. The proportion of black students is projected to hold steady at about 7 percent.
Those trends are likely to have a profound impact on everything from state budgets and school taxes to the nature of Kansas businesses and the economy.
The most obvious consequence, experts say, will be increased costs for public school funding. Although the report looks only at “headcount” enrollment, school funding in Kansas is based on “weighted” enrollment that counts some students more than once, depending on factors such as poverty status and English language proficiency.
Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for KASB, wrote in a blog after the report's release that when weighting factors are added in, the additional 25,000 students equates to roughly 35,000 additional “weighted” students for funding purposes, resulting in an additional $135 million in school finance costs
“This would be the cost of simply keeping the base state aid per pupil at the same level, with no adjustment for inflation or expanded programs,” Tallman wrote.
But the impact could also extend far beyond the mere cost of funding public schools.
The future of Kansas
Emily Rauscher, an assistant professor of sociology at Kansas University who studies demographics and education, says the rapid growth in the Hispanic student population has broader meaning for the state as a whole because the student population reflects what the adult population will soon look like.
Because many Hispanics tend to have lower incomes, Rauscher said, growth in that population could affect the state's overall poverty rate, resulting in higher costs for some social services.
But she also said it could have long-term positive impacts because the higher birth rate among Hispanics could help reverse the state's long-term trend of losing its young population.
“Kansas and other states or areas of the heartland tend to lose a lot of their young people, contributing to an overall brain drain,” she said. “To have more young people will help boost the economy and innovation. Demographers talk about this a lot, the issues of an aging population. Getting some of the youth back would be good.”
In addition, she said, having more people in the state who are fluent in multiple languages could also benefit the state's business economy.
“Higher rates of bilingualism can't hurt,” she said. “Linguistic studies suggest that bilingualism helps people have different views of the world. It creates more connections in their brain.”