Bay Area school enrollment decline continues during pandemic

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California public school enrollment plunged for the second straight school year under COVID restrictions, according to new numbers released Monday, with the number of K-12 students dropping below 6 million for the first time. in over 20 years, in part due to dismal numbers in the Bay Area.

New 2021-2022 school year data from the state Department of Education shows 110,000 fewer students enrolled statewide than in the previous school year — a drop of 1.8% – but less than the drop of 161,000 the previous year when campuses closed and most public school children were learning online.

In the Six Counties Bay Area, however, the second year of pandemic enrollment declines was even larger than the first and more dramatic than the state’s decline. The 799,000 students enrolled this year represent a drop of almost 4% compared to 2020-21.

Enrollment in public schools had already declined steadily before COVID-19 disrupted daily school life, due to soaring costs of living, falling birth rates and migration patterns, a revealed an analysis by the Bay Area News Group published on Sunday. But the slide has accelerated in the past two years as parents have grown frustrated with remote learning. The new numbers seemed to indicate that many of them were sticking to the options they turned to when their classrooms were closed.

The one exception was kindergarten, which, after seeing one of the biggest drops in enrollment last year, has been among the biggest increases this school year.

Julien Lafortune, a researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, said the rise in the number of kindergarten students – although still down from pre-pandemic years – could signal a change of heart among parents who worried about enrolling their youngsters in virtual classrooms for their first year of school, when hands-on interactions are so important. Many parents chose to keep them at home or send them to private schools that were providing in-person lessons during the pandemic, he said.

Still, the gains haven’t offset the effects of the COVID slide. “There hasn’t really been a rebound. There has been a kind of continuation of these declines (in registrations), more than expected, said Lafortune.

Monday’s new numbers revealed another startling twist: Charter school enrollment fell 1.8% statewide last year. Enrollment in independent public schools had been on the rise for years and now accounts for nearly 12% of all public school students. The state’s major urban districts accounted for nearly a third of the current year’s decline, according to the California Department of Education. By contrast, enrollment in private schools — many of which have kept their doors open during the pandemic — rose 1.7%, perhaps reflecting parents’ desire to see their children back in class with a teacher and classmates. class.

The new data shows that Pacific Islander, white and Native American students saw the largest enrollment declines, followed by white, black, Asian and Latino students. There was also a more than 6% drop in homeless students, a 4% drop in youth in foster care, a 3% drop in socio-economically disadvantaged students, and a drop of a half percent of students with disabilities. An outlier was English learners, who got a boost with more than 6% growth in enrollment from last school year.

Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy analyst at the California Policy & Budget Center, expressed concern about the sharp decline in the number of socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

“These are clearly disproportionate declines,” Kaplan said. “We really need to know more about the experiences of these students and their families to understand why.”

Of the Bay Area’s 12 largest school districts, the most staggering declines this year were in Cupertino Union and San Jose Unified, for at least the second year in a row, and continued the district’s downward trend. Over the past five years, Cupertino’s registrations have dropped more than 24% and San Jose Unified’s by 16%. During the same period, the fast-growing West Contra Costa Unified and Fremont Unified saw the smallest declines, at 4% each.

District leaders said the state’s report came as no surprise, given the trend of recent years. They said they were taking new fiscal measures to combat the accelerated decline since the start of the pandemic – including cutting programs that once drew more families to their schools.

“We unfortunately cannot control the price of housing and cannot control when people chose to have school-age children,” said Erin Lindsey, spokeswoman for the Cupertino Union School District. Lindsey acknowledged the pandemic has impacted where Cupertino parents have decided to send their children and said the district is focused on providing a “great experience for families and students” to encourage those who are still there.

Trends show that the largest declines in grade level occurred in grades 1, 4, 7 and 9. Kindergarten and Grade 12 enrollment rose from last year, when the biggest drop was among kindergarten and sixth graders.

Education policy experts waiting for new state data to see if early COVID declines might fade, said there was not a big enough rebound in enrollment — especially in kindergartens and first graders – to recover from the first hit of the pandemic, as hoped.

But it could take another few years of data to understand long-term impacts and future projections, said Mike Fine, CEO of the State’s Fiscal Management and Crisis Assistance Team.

“The reality is that there are fewer children. Birth rates play a big role in that, migration and immigration play a role in that, and then there are elements of parental choice for private, charters, and home schooling,” Fine said.

Alum Rock Superintendent Hilaria Bauer said the pandemic has only worsened the economic situation for many families who were already just getting by.

“If they don’t have a place to live, grow up or have a safe environment, families have the option of leaving the area,” Bauer said. “A lot of our families have moved to Los Banos, Salinas and some of those neighborhoods.”

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