(CALMATTERS) – “We just aren’t sure where they’ve gone.”
That comment from Barrett Snider of Capitol Advisors — a lobbying firm for school districts — came in response to sobering data released Monday by the state Department of Education: For the first time since the start of the century, fewer than 6 million students are attending California’s public schools, CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports.
Statewide enrollment this year fell by more than 110,000 students to about 5.89 million, a 1.8% decline from last year — on top of the 2.6% drop notched during the first year of the pandemic.
- But even after accounting for California’s slowing population growth and high cost of housing, education officials are struggling to explain where all the kids went: For the first time since at least 2014, charter school enrollment also fell — by a whopping 12,600 students. And although private school enrollment ticked up by 9,000 students — a 1.7% increase — that doesn’t account for most of the public school exodus, Joe reports.
- And while kindergarten enrollment increased after a massive decline last year, first-grade enrollment enrollment dropped by 18,000 students — one of the steepest drops for a single grade level. That suggests that many students who were of kindergarten age in 2020 did not return to public schools for first grade.
- Dwindling enrollment poses both financial and existential questions for schools and state lawmakers: “We should not only be concerned about the fiscal consequences of having less students, we need to question where the students are going and how their educational needs are being met,” Edgar Zazueta, the executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, told EdSource.
Indeed, the enrollment data is just the latest example of the myriad challenges facing California schools — and students — as they work to recover from the ravages of the pandemic.
- Academic achievement: California’s average eighth graders showed the skill and knowledge of fifth graders on standardized math tests in 2021, according to a new analysis.
- Equity: As debate rages over proposed changes to California’s math framework that some critics have derided as “woke math,” one San Diego school took the controversial step of eliminating several honors classes. There’s “a question of, is that label getting in the way of expanding opportunities of access to more students?” said Richard Barrera, a San Diego Unified school board trustee.
- School closures: The ACLU of Northern California urged Attorney General Rob Bonta on Monday to investigate Oakland Unified’s plan to close or merge more than a dozen schools, alleging that it “violates Black students’ fundamental right to equal educational opportunity.” Meanwhile, the board of education can’t agree on the size of the district’s deficit.
- Staff shortages: As the state struggles to address its dearth of teachers, Sacramento City Unified announced Friday that the district could lose $46 million if it doesn’t find a way to make up the 2,400 minutes of learning lost when campuses closed for an eight-day employee strike.