The United States faces a staggering demographic challenge over the next two decades. Every state in the union faces this problem, and some have it harder than others. Florida faces one of the larger challenges in that the population of both young and old will be vastly increasing at the same time. This challenge will require fundamental rethinking of the social welfare state, including but not limited to K-12, higher education, pensions and health care.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects a substantial increase in the school-aged population in Florida (see Figure 1).
Of course, not all children under age 18 will be attending school in 2030 – most notably the children born in 2027 to 2030. So for a more precise measure of the school-aged population likely to be attending public school in 2030, we can consult a different set of Census estimates. This alternate data provides estimates on the population of 5- to 17-year-olds (see Figure 2). This substantially understates the likely size of Florida’s 2030 K-12 population, as it does not include 18-year-olds. The reader should also note the fact that 4-year-olds are eligible to receive public assistance for Voluntary Pre-K. Nevertheless, the same overall trend reveals itself: the Florida public school population is set to expand substantially.
Florida, in short, will need to find a way to educate far more than one million additional students each year by 2030. Note that Florida’s charter school law passed in 1996. The time between 1996 and now is the same at the amount of time between now and 2030. Charter schools educated 203,000 students in 2012-13.
The Step Up for Students and McKay programs educate another 86,000. It will take a very substantial improvement in Florida choice programs simply to get them to absorb a substantial minority of the increase in student population on the way. Otherwise, Florida districts will either find themselves overwhelmed with expensive construction projects, or can start using their facilities in early and late shifts, or both.
A giant new investment in school facilities will prove incredibly difficult because of the other meta-trend in Florida’s demographics: aging. The expansion of Florida’s youth population, while substantial, pales in comparison to that of the elderly population. Florida’s population aged 65 and older projects to more than double between 2010 and 2030, from approximately 3.4 million to almost 7.8 million (see Figure 3).