Treasure In The Valley

Demographic Changes and New School Opportunities in Ada and Canyon Counties


Idaho’s families and student demographics are changing. Not only is the state’s total population growing (Idaho is the 10th fastest growing state), but Gem State families are increasingly urban, non-white and lower income. This was the big takeaway from the 2013 ECONorthwest report Shifting Sands: Idaho’s Changing Student Demographics and What it Means for Idaho. That report confirmed what many of us who work in communities like Boise, Meridian, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls or Coeur d’ Alene see daily as we pass new home construction sites, hunt for apartments, sit in traffic and watch new school buildings pop up like wild flowers.

Nowhere are these dynamics of growth more prevalent than in the Treasure Valley. Since 2000, the school-aged population in the Treasure Valley has grown by 39 percent (see Figure 1). This is significant when you consider that the change in school-aged population has only increased by 12.8 percent in the entire state in the same number of years.

Figure 1 Treasure Valley School-Age Population 2000-2014 and 2019 Projections  

School Age Population 2000 2010 2014  Proj. 2019
White  76,533  98,520  100,056  100,100
Non-White  8,044  13,304  15,024  17,200
Two or More Races  3,168  5,874  6,827  8,000
Hispanic/Latino (all races)  10,369  21,020  23,552  26,700
All Races  87,745  117,698  121,907  125,300

Source: U.S. Census, Nielson and ECONorthwest

With this growth come challenges, but with the challenges also come tremendous opportunities. Specifically, Bluum is most interested in where new innovative schools (charter, district or even private) should be built and opened to best meet the needs of the areas’ growing and increasingly diverse student demographics. Bluum, with the support of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, is committed to helping create 20,000 new, high-performing school seats, by 2024. We want to make sure that the new seats we advocate for are actually created in the communities with the greatest need and demand for better school options.

To help us figure all this out we went back to the crack research team at ECONorthwest. We asked their Project Director, and the author of the Shifting Sands report, Matthew Kitchen to build on the earlier work to help us begin to answer three essential questions specific to the Treasure Valley:

  1. Where can we expect to see the greatest growth in the pre-K-12 school-age population?
  2. Where are the highest concentrations of low-income and minority school-aged children?
  3. Where are current schools underperforming based on the students they serve?

We felt that if we could get insights to these questions we would have a better sense of where new schools in the Treasure Valley should be built. Of course, each school district in the Ada and Canyon Counties have similar studies of their own, which are valuable and important for their planning. But, we wanted to look at this as a regional issue rather than just a school district matter. We wanted this information for all school providers (district, charter and private) as well as for local community leaders, business leaders and others involved in growing and supporting schools and education programs.

Matthew Kitchen and his colleagues at ECONorthwest combined their skills and experience in urban planning and public education to look at demographic trends and school performance in the Treasure Valley. This new report, Treasure in the Valley: Demographic Changes and New School Opportunities in Ada and Canyon Counties, uses data from the U.S. Census and Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS) to project the change of school-aged population through 2019. The ECONorthwest team also tapped the American Community Survey data to look at current concentrations of low-income, non-white, and Hispanic populations within the valley. And, the research team created a performance model from a combination of ISAT math scores and school-level demographics for district and charter public schools. The performance model reports how well each school does in comparison to an expected performance (see full report for notes on methodology).

In interrogating our three essential questions about student growth, school quality and change in the Treasure Valley, the research shows the following insights:

  • The Treasure Valley saw overall student enrollment grow by nearly 12,000 students between 2010-2015. The region is expected to add another 3,400 students by 2019, and nearly 65 percent of these students will be from minority backgrounds.
  • By 2019 it is projected that there will be a net increase of 9,000 households in the region earning less than $50,000 a year; half of those earning less than $25,000.
  • Over 10,000 students in the Treasure Valley (about ten percent of K-12 students) attended schools in 2015-16 that performed worse than expected on their math ISATs.
  • “Hot spots” where the demand and need for new and better school options is greatest cross district and community lines with sections of Boise, Caldwell, Meridian, Nampa, and Kuna.
  • Nampa is highlighted in our analysis as an area that could benefit significantly from new school investments and support. It is important to note, this has already begun with district innovations and new charter development.

Treasure in the Valley aims to help local education leaders, community leaders, businesses, and philanthropies support wiser and more strategic investments in schools. But, it also breaks new ground by using empirical data across two counties to site schools based on the needs of changing communities. As Idaho and other states, especially in the West, become less rural, more diverse, and more expansive with school choice policies research like this will continue to be needed. A new, high performing school targeted at a “hot spot” of student growth and educational need can make a sizeable difference for not only a community’s families and children, but also to the overall economic and civic health of the community.

We hope this report can stimulate some important conversations and be a useful tool for everyone involved in designing the future of education in the Treasure Valley.

Angel Gonzalez, Director of Research
Terry Ryan, Chief Executive Officer