Idaho has seen an unprecedented uptick in population growth since 2019 — and that growth has had unique impacts on the public school system.
Since 2010, Idaho has seen a 23% percent population increase — vastly higher than the national and regional averages, according to the latest data. On average, the state has grown at an annual rate of 2.5% in the last five years.
For districts like Kuna, Vallivue and West Ada, growth has meant higher enrollment in schools that are already bursting at the seams. But in districts like Boise and Coeur d’Alene, K-12 enrollment is shrinking, even as the overall population increases — that’s true for 65 districts statewide, according to data from 2019-2022.
At a Tuesday webinar, Department of Labor economist Lisa Grigg took a look at what statewide growth and population data could mean for the future of Idaho’s public schools — and the workforce.
Here’s what she found.
Growth isn’t always equal
Idaho is growing — but public school data doesn’t reflect that growth equally.
Statewide, K-12 enrollment has grown — but only by about 1.1% annually over the past five years — a little less than half of the annual population growth of 2.5% in that same time. Most of that growth has occurred in Southwest Idaho, including the Treasure Valley.
Public school enrollment and population growth at large are diverging, Grigg says. And the reasons for that mismatch are numbered.
On one hand, the vast majority of growth (just under 90%) has occurred due to in-migration — people moving into Idaho. Most of those newcomers fall in the 18-64 age range. Only 10% of the total population growth from 2019-2022 was from youth aged 0-17, said Grigg. Without in-migration, Idaho’s K-12 enrollment would have declined.
Additionally, Idaho’s birth rates have been on the decline since the late 2000s — a trend that can be seen at a national and global scale. The state has seen a -29% drop in births since 2007.
And school choice is likely a factor, although it’s hard to track.
“It can also be that we’re seeing more homeschooling and private school enrollment growth…” Grigg said. “We know that that’s something that is happening.”
K-12 enrollment outlook is unsure
It’s hard to tell where the future of K-12 enrollment in Idaho is headed, based on the data. But with an already pinched workforce, Idaho could be headed toward larger struggles if net growth slows, and birth rates continue to dip.
Department officials touted Idaho Launch, Gov. Brad Little’s incentive plan, as a tool to keep youth working and living in Idaho.
Launch will provide up to $8,000 in scholarships to Idaho high school graduates who go into “in-demand” career fields. Applications opened last week.
Overall, Grigg said growth data is worth watching.
“The demographics look like we could be headed for trouble, but we may not be,” Grigg said. “But don’t just assume…because we have stellar growth in Idaho that everything is going to grow equally.”