State Watch

California reports ‘sharp decline’ in public school enrollment amid pandemic

Public schools in California have seen a “sharp decline” in enrollment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has moved many classes to virtual instruction.

Student enrollment in the state’s K-12 schools fell by nearly 160,000 within the 2020-2021 school year. The largest drop was seen at schools serving students in kindergarten through 6th grade, according to The Associated Press.

“The annual snapshot of fall enrollment shows a sharp one-year decline as the state and nation grappled with a deadly pandemic that disrupted all aspects of public education,” the California Department of Education told the AP.

The decrease in enrollment came as California delayed reopening schools, which made it one of the slowest states in the nation to allow students to resume in-person learning, the outlet noted.

California’s white student population was reportedly the first to depart from the state’s public schools, with nearly half opting not to enroll for the current school year.

Parents in California were also hesitant to enroll their students in kindergarten this school year, which resulted in enrollment declining by almost 61,000 students.

The state’s student enrollment numbers have typically stayed around 6.2 million, with enrollment falling by about 20,000 to 30,000 each year due to declining birth rates.

Some urban districts within the state have seen the largest declines, according to the AP. 

While public school enrollment has dropped, the number of students enrolled in private school or doing homeschooling has risen, officials said.

A previous analysis of 33 states released in December showed that student enrollment in public schools had dropped by roughly 2 percent, or 500,000 students.

Education officials have noted that despite California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) calling for school budgets not to be penalized for enrollment declines, the needs of low-income students could go unmet without extra funding.

“Any changes in enrollment will have impacts on funding and equity,” said Christopher Nellum, interim executive director for The Education Trust-West, an education equity advocacy group, according to AP. “It’s just going to exacerbate the problems that already existed.”

The Hill has reached out to the California Department of Education for comment.

Tags California Gavin Newsom public school

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