Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Upstate NY Demographics and School Consolidation

This is a doom-and-gloom post. Well, not really. But partly. It's not obvious that school consolidation would actually contribute to the solution, but there really is a problem. Let's look at it.

The image here, which is as it says from Cornell's Program on Applied Demographics, shows the Hamilton Central School district in the recent past and probable near-term future. Fifteen years ago we had 879 students -- we're down by more than 300, i.e. if the line kept going down we'd have a negative number of students in thirty years or so. Of course we won't do that, but we may reach 400 even sooner than the 2017 suggested by the (pessimistic) blue line on the graph. School consolidation is an obvious thing to think about, wouldn't you say?

What's actually going on here? Well, of course a lot of young people move out of upstate NY looking for jobs, a lot of people move out of NY altogether looking for jobs (and lower taxes, and following businesses which are following the people and looking for lower taxes too) and in any case my generation of Baby Boomers are aging fast -- and expensively. Here are two charts on Madison County demographics from the same Cornell group, at County Projections.

Just pick Madison as the county, and then consider 1990 and 2035.

As you can see, back in 1990 we had a bulge in high school (just before leaving to go find a job or college) and in 2035 they think we still will, but it's thinning out, no longer dominating the oldsters who use up the Medicare and pensions that our juniors will be trying to pay for. As our state office of mental health puts it,

In 2011, the first of the post-war “baby boom” generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) will reach the traditionally defined “old” age of 65 years. This “elder boom” will result in a doubling of the number of older adults from 35 million in 2005 to 70 million by 2030. In New York State, the number will increase over 50% from 2.4 million to 3.7 million.

So, fewer and fewer students, and the money is needed elsewhere. We cannot afford to go on spending $20K per student per year, and as time goes on we will get less able to afford it. It's not a comfortable picture. It doesn't have to be that way, of course: there's a whole lot that the federal government does to make things worse, that doesn't have to happen. We might end up looking at American history to see what kind of population influx we have handled before, and dramatically increasing the immigration rate. That would cause problems, but they'd be different problems; the projections would change. And the "elder boom" doesn't have to be that bad, if we don't retire -- you weren't going to retire, were you? Actually, maybe we can retire. On current projections we can't afford the Medicare that we've been promising each other (well, our kids won't be able to afford it on our behalf) but if we got rid of a bunch of anti-innovation laws and regulations, I think we'd do just fine. Moore's Law is applying to robotics and 3d printing; we should be able to afford much more than we ever did before -- unless innovation is blocked, as it so often is. I'm happy to blather on about that as I have before on this blog, but I don't see much that can be done about it locally, or even at the state level.

And Cuomo may be trying hard to spin his budget cuts, but he has to make some big ones -- the state is losing the ability to pay for what it used to pay for. Sure, some of that is due to the Great Recession and still-horrendously-high unemployment which keeps government outlays high and income low, some of that will return if and as the overall economy recovers (please note Japan's Lost Decade, still going strong after 20 years, if you think it has to recover) but some of it is just the way that New York never had a plan to fulfill the promises we've made to each other.

So, think about it. What would you cut? And don't say "well, I wouldn't cut X, that's no answer" even if X=education; look at New York state and local spending 2011 and decide: what would you cut?

Update: I should have put a link to the state budget data, at least to the (PDF)Executive Budget Briefing Book saying, on page 13 of 101,

New York public schools spend more per student than any other state – fully 71 percent above the national average – yet New York ranks 40th in graduation rates and 34th in the nation in the percentage of adults who have a high school diploma or the equivalent.
So what would you cut? Would education really be altogether off your list?

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home