State Dispute Census Bureau Estimate on School Children

State Dispute Census Bureau Estimate on School Children

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The U.S. Census Bureau believes Utah has had a slight decline in its number of children ages 5 to 13. But school enrollment figures indicate the number actually has gone up.

The federal bureau's population estimates released Thursday put the number of Utah elementary school-age children at 355,079 or 14.9 percent of the state's population -- making it the highest ratio in the country.

The census estimate indicates a 0.3 percent dip in the state's population ages 5 to 13 and a 0.7 percent decline in 14- to 17-year olds from 2003 to 2004.

However, Robert Spendlove, manager of demographic and economic analysis for the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, said Utah's public school enrollment grew by nearly 2 percent from 2003 to 2004.

Spendlove said there were 495,682 students enrolled last year -- up about 8,700 students from the previous year.

"While in the latter '90s Utah did see a drop in its school-age population and enrollment, beginning in 2001, school enrollment started to grow," Spendlove said.

And it looks like the growth will continue as more students start school, said Patty Murphy, minimum school program budget administrator for the state Office of Education.

This year, there were about 6,800 more kindergartners than high school seniors, Murphy said. Even factoring in early graduation and dropout rates, enrollment shows more young students entering school, she said.

Pam Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said Utah had a record 50,527 births in 2004.

She said births have been rising since the early 1990s, and many of the children born since then are now in school.

"The only thing that could wipe this out is a big out-migration," Perlich said. "What we see is more people are moving into the state."

The high school and young adult population is currently in decline, however, after a dip in births in the late 1980s, she said.

Matthew Christenson, U.S. Census Bureau demographer, said it's always a possibility that state estimates are better than the census, because states have access to some data that the bureau doesn't.

"Our goal is, we are always trying to do better," he said.

The population estimates are based on Census 2000 information, he said. Births are added and deaths subtracted. Migration is also factored in but is difficult to accurately track, he said.

Perlich said the Utah Population Estimates Committee bases its estimates on school enrollment, membership figures from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, employment, vital records, IRS information, utility hookups, building permits and other information.

The census' overall estimate of Utah's nearly 2.4 million people is also very likely an undercount, Perlich said.

"They haven't been getting, in particular, our international in-migration in Utah," she said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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