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Colorado appears to be growing, so why are schools closing?

Colorado's second-largest school district lost more students than any other district in the state and is looking at plans to close more schools.

DENVER — School board members with Jefferson County Public Schools will study a plan to close more school buildings Tuesday night, as the district continues to downsize because of a lack of enrollment.

It seems like a jarring proposal for a metro area that in all accounts seems to be growing, but Colorado’s population growth is decreasing and has been since 2015. Colorado's state demographer, Elizabeth Garner, said it is due in large part to a lack of births in the state.

“For Colorado as a whole, we reached our peak school age population in 2018 and we’ve been declining ever since,” Garner said.

In the 2020 census, Colorado added 38,529 school-aged people, under the age of 18. But 43 of Colorado’s 64 counties saw their 18-and-under population decrease since 2010. One of the largest decreases in that population was in Jefferson County, a fact that Garner attributes to more people in that county aging in place and their school-aged kids eventually aging out of public schools.

Jefferson County lost 5,246 people ages 18 and under in the 2020 census. Garner said while Colorado reached its peak for school aged population in 2018, Jefferson County alone hit its school-aged population peak in 2001.

“If you think about it in neighborhoods, you move in, you have kids, they age, you age in place, you get to a point where you’re not having kids anymore,” Garner said.

By contrast, the school-aged population in Weld County increased by 16,747 in the 2020 census, about 43% of the increase in the state.

While Colorado saw more school-aged kids in the 2020 census, Garner said the growth is slowing. She said several factors are stopping people from having kids. Birth control is advanced. Educational attainment is greater, meaning many people are pursuing careers and delaying family life.

“Instead of having kids in their 20s, they’re having kids in their 30s and our peak person is really aging into the 30s, so we could start to see an increase in births simply because we have lot of folks aging into their 30s,” Garner said.

DATA: Colorado populations under 18, county by county

Jeffco plans

JeffCo Public Schools abruptly closed two elementary schools, Fitzmorris and Allendale in Arvada, at the end of the school year. Now, the district is working on plans to close more.

Colorado's second-largest district lost more students than any other district in the state in the last year, particularly in the eastern part of Jeffco's jurisdiction. Some elementary schools are getting so small they're combining two grades into one class.

New data from the district shows 49 elementary schools have fewer than 250 students or are using 60% of their capacity or less.

Next month, the superintendent is supposed to have a recommendation for which schools to close. The district will then hold public hearings.

The final board vote on school closures is set for November.

RELATED: Declining enrollment may lead to more elementary school closures

RELATED: New program aims to recruit more Black educators to Colorado

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