Like most states, Massachusetts underwent a large shift in public school enrollments between the 1980s and 1990s, requiring a number of sizable fiscal and educational adjustments by individual school districts. Between 1980 and 1989, the number of students in kindergarten through grade 12 fell 21 percent, from 1.04 million to 825,000. As children of baby boomers reached school age, the picture changed and enrollments grew more than 90,000 over the next seven years. These aggregate trends gloss over even more marked shifts at the local level.
This article investigates the degree to which the constraints of Proposition 2 1/2, and other factors such as demographic and economic shifts and differences in school quality, affected the adjustments that both local governments and households made to a demographically driven turnaround in enrollment growth. The authors report three major findings: (1) Net public school enrollment changes are positively related to differences across communities in school quality. (2) Shifts in enrollments were much more pronounced in the 1990s, when aggregate enrollments were rising and the economy was improving. (3) Proposition 2 1/2 appears to have significantly altered the pattern of enrollment changes, with families with students moving to districts less constrained by this property tax limit.