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Child Population In N.H. Smaller But More Diverse

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New Hampshire's child population is shrinking and becoming more racially diverse.

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The overall number of New Hampshire residents under age 18 declined by 10.6 percent over the last decade, according to an analysis of census data from the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire.

But during this time, the percentage of non-white kids increased by nearly 48 percent. Today, about a fifth of New Hampshire residents under 18 are non-white.

In Manchester, the percentage of non-white kids is 43.1 percent. In Nashua, it is 45.4 percent.

“We're talking about over 40 percent of the children being minority now, in a state that's been so much non-Hispanic white,” says Kenneth Johnson, the author of the Carsey School analysis. “That's pretty striking.”

As Youth Population Changes, So Do the Needs of School Districts

The changing demographics of young people have major implications for school districts. Some schools face rising per-pupil costs as their student population declines and others are struggling to ensure their staff reflects the growing linguistic and cultural diversity of students.

Andrea Howarth, a Brazilian American who works as a liaison between the Manchester School District and newly-arrived Brazilian families, says that with the right support, students learn English and build connections quickly.

The district is hiring more staff to work with English Language Learner (ELL) students and their families. But integrating those students at the start of the school year has been hectic, Howarth says, due to the number of student arrivals, changes to the district’s newcomer programs, and difficulties establishing trusting relationships with immigrant families.

‘It’s really hard now,” Howarth says. “[ELL teachers] are going to have to work around the clock, find a way to communicate and figure out the best they can offer to [students].”

Declining Enrollment Opens up Big Debate on Public Schools

As the overall school-age population in New Hampshire declines, policymakers are preparing for big debates about the role and cost of public education.

The number of kids enrolled in public schools has been declining by 1-2 percentage points each year, and that trend increased during the pandemic. Many suspect it will further accelerate as families take advantage of a school choice program launched this fall.

Public school advocates have long pushed for the state to fund a greater share of education costs, in part to keep under-enrolled schools open and avoid school consolidation.

But conservatives and proponents of school choice say declining enrollment is a good chance to re-evaluate public schools and how they’re funded.

“We have to start to rethink the system that we have,” says Andrew Cline, the chair of the state Board of Education and director of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank.

“Are we in the business of educating individual children, or are we in the business of funding concrete buildings that bundle a whole bunch of services for the community?”

But Carl Ladd, the director of the New Hampshire school administrator's association says even when their student population declines, schools serve as important community centers, meeting the social, health, and academic needs of students and their families.

“You start talking about closing a school, and you're no longer talking about numbers,” he says. “You’re no longer talking about enrollment and cost; you're talking about community identity; you're talking about community memory.”

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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