A decade after Queen Lydia Liliuokalani Elementary School closed its doors because of low enrollment, the ripple effects the closure had on the greater Kaimuki neighborhood can still be felt by longtime residents.

The 99-year-old school served as a meeting place for the Kaimuki Neighborhood Board, which no longer has a regular meeting site. It hosted annual public celebrations of Queen Liliuokalani’s birthday. Nearby residents used the basketball courts during off hours.

“I’m still upset about it,” said Lyle Bullock, a former neighborhood board member whose daughter was attending the school when it closed. “Not for me personally, but for the community.”

It’s been years since the state has taken steps to shutter a school, but difficult decisions like the one made in Kaimuki may lie ahead for other communities if public school enrollment continues to decline.

If current projections hold true, by the 2027-28 school year Hawaii will have fewer students enrolled in state-run public schools than at any point since 1962.

It’s a startling data point that could have big repercussions for public education in a state where many smaller and rural schools are already struggling to keep programs afloat.

“It’s a significant concern,” Bruce Voss, chair of the state Board of Education said of the declines, adding that at this time the BOE is not planning or considering any closures.

“We have a lot on our plate right now to remediate the learning loss caused by the pandemic,” Voss said. “That is our primary focus now.”

But some education experts say now is the time to start having hard conversations about what a shrinking student population might mean and to use federal Covid-19 relief funds to better prepare for the future.

Schools nationwide with declining enrollment are going to face very serious fiscal pressure to reduce staffing and close under-enrolled schools, said Thomas Dee, a professor at Stanford University who has been studying public school enrollment changes during the pandemic.

“I think so many of us focus on this propitious moment where many states have access to these extra funds from the federal government, because it at least gives states and districts some fiscal capacity to navigate this,” Dee said.

Read the full article about school enrollment declining in Hawaii by Jessica Terrell at The 74.