While the number of children in Utah schools continues to increase, public school enrollment should level off in 1992 or 1993 and then begin to decline, the Utah Foundation reported Monday.

The foundation, which studied the latest enrollment figures released by the Utah State Office of Education, said that kindergarten enrollments in the state have been declining since 1985 and elementary grade enrollments peaked this year. Enrollment loads will now shift away from elementary grades to the middle school and high school grades."The prospect of a leveling off in overall school enrollments should help ease some of the financial pressure that has been placed on Utah enrollments during recent years," the foundation report says.

Between 1977 and 1987, public school enrollments in Utah rose 33.5 percent while they were declining by 8.2 percent in the United States. Even though educational budgets have grown much faster in Utah than throughout the nation over the past 10 years, Utah lost ground among the states in the amount expended per child.

The State Office of Education reported that 429,551 students are enrolled in Utah's public school system as of Oct. 1, 1988. That is a 6,165-student increase from the previous year. Utah enrollments have increased by 14,799 pupils since 1982.

Foundation projections indicate that middle school enrollments (grades 7-9) will continue to grow until 1993 and high school enrollments (grades 10-12) will not decline until sometime after 1996.

"The slowdown of enrollment growth in Utah is mainly the result of a decline in Utah's birthrate since the late 1970s and an out-migration of population," a foundation news release says. "It is still too early to tell if this increase represents a reversal of the general trend established in the 1980s or whether it is merely a temporary aberration."

A strong in-migration of population during the 1970s contributed to the enrollment growth experienced in the public schools over the past 15 years. Over the past four years, however, there has been an out-migration from the state, and that has contributed to declining enrollments.

Out-migration may soon end. The foundation report indicates that over the past 12 months, the number of non-agricultural jobs in the state rose by more than 20,000. This is more than double the rate of new jobs create in 1986 and 1987.

The foundation found that enrollments are currently rising in 26 school districts and declining in 14 others. Most of the increase was experienced in high-growth areas along the Wasatch Front and in Washington County. Alpine, Davis, Granite, Jordan and Washington school districts recorded a total enrollment gain of 4,824 students between 1987 and 1988. This was equal to nearly 80 percent of the total enrollment gains for all 40 Utah school districts.

Private school enrollment has little impact on the overall education picture, the foundation said. Currently, there are only 5,855 students enrolled in private schools. That is only about 1.3 percent of the total elementary and secondary school enrollment. Nationally, about 12.2 percent of schoolchildren are enrolled in private schools.

Largest increases in '88 enrollments*

District Enrollment pct. of change Washington 12,040 5.40 S. Sanpete 2,533 4.67

Park City 1,510 4.43

S. Summit 1,018 4.30

Cache 12,089 3.33

Provo 13,309 3.07

Logan 5,281 2.92

Davis 51,994 2.57

Alpine Granite 37,537 2.25

Granite 75,702 2.23

*District with more than 1,000 students Source: Utah Foundation compilation of Utah Office of Education reports.