As the county’s population grew, overall enrollment in K-12 schools rose steadily in Kern County for a decade – until last year.
When schools opened their campuses to full in-person instruction this fall, the question was open whether the “missing” students would return.
Local high schools, which were spared the biggest enrollment drops from the pandemic, continued to grow. But a review of the largest local elementary school districts shows that not all schools returned to registered enrollment levels before schools switched to distance education.
There were 3,600 under-enrolled students in the county in the 2020-21 year, according to Robert Meszaros, spokesperson for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. There were 2,747 fewer students just in kindergarten, a grade level that is not required in California.
“Probably, with the uncertainty of COVID and distance learning, some parents have chosen not to enroll in [kindergarten] and wait until their first year, ”he noted.
Kern County was not the only one to see its numbers drop during the pandemic. Because enrollment and attendance numbers declined statewide, the state funded most schools assuming pre-pandemic attendance to stabilize school funding.
But this year there is no disclaimer in the state budget. This means that not only do students who don’t show up miss out on their studies and school services, their absence – or their return – affects campus funding.
The Kern High School District saw no decline during the pandemic, and it has grown steadily this year. It has 42,967 students, which includes its 18 comprehensive high schools, complementary schools and other sites. This is an increase of 3.7% compared to 2019-2020.
“This year we have the highest enrollment in Kern High School District history,” said Erin Briscoe-Clark. “To welcome our growing communities, we are proud to open our 19th comprehensive high school, Del Oro High School, in the fall of 2022.”
Local primary school districts, while they have experienced growth, have not seen it at the same level as the secondary school district.
Panama-Buena Vista Union School District, which opened Highgate Elementary this year to deal with population growth, fell about 3% during the pandemic. But it is more or less recovered: it currently has 18,836 students enrolled, just 50 students less than before the pandemic, according to Jennifer Irvin, assistant superintendent of educational services.
The story is different in the Bakersfield City and Greenfield Union school districts.
The BCSD lost the most students during the pandemic. Its enrollment has declined by about 6 percent.
“We believe the drop in enrollment is linked to concerns about sending students to school in the midst of a pandemic,” district spokeswoman Tabatha Mills wrote.
This year he won back some of those students. But with 29,284 students, it’s still a drop of around 1,500 compared to 2019-2020. This is a drop of 4.9%.
Greenfield Union has lost 110 students since last year. Superintendent Ramón Hendrix reports having 9,254 students enrolled, a decrease of about 4% from 2019-2020.
You can reach Emma Gallegos at 661-395-7394.