SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – California public schools have seen a sharp drop in enrollment this year as the pandemic has forced millions of people to attend school online, according to data released Thursday.
The drop came as school districts across the state delayed getting kids back to class, making California one of the slowest in the country to reopen schools.
Data from the California Department of Education shows that the number of students in K-12 schools has fallen by more than 160,000 this school year, most of them at the K-6 level, for a total of 6 million.
The drop is by far the biggest drop in years and represents the clearest picture to date of the pandemic’s devastating toll in California public schools.
“The annual fall enrollment snapshot shows a steep year-over-year drop as the state and nation grapple with a deadly pandemic that has disrupted all aspects of public education,” the department said. education in a press release.
The exodus was led by white students who make up just 22% of California’s public school population, but make up about half of all outgoing students for the 2020-21 school year, which could increase disparities in the California public education system.
California has the highest number of students of any state in the United States, and total student numbers have hovered around 6.2 million in recent years. In previous years, the number of students has fallen from around 20,000 to 30,000 per year, due to falling birth rates, and this rate is expected to continue.
When the pandemic struck and Governor Gavin Newsom ordered public schools to be closed in March 2020, no one expected the closures to last as long as they did.
Most of the public schools in California started this school year with distance education and many continued this method until the spring. In-person classes began to resume this month in the state’s largest urban school districts.
Among the worried parents who switched to private school was Aurora Guel, a San Diego County mom who said distance learning sent her high school student on a downward spiral.
“She got really depressed with all the isolation that started when the school closed,” Guel said.
Her 18-year-old daughter’s marks had dropped to the point where she failed three courses; she lost the motivation to apply to college and didn’t want to leave her room, even to have dinner with the family.
“We had to do something to get her out of this deep hole she had fallen into,” Guel said.
After being transferred to a private Catholic school in October, the teenager’s morale and grades are on the rise. She has been accepted into college and is eagerly awaiting her prom, a milestone many public schools have abandoned. “She is so much better now,” her mother said.
Superintendent of Public Education Tony Thurmond called the numbers but said officials were optimistic about the resumption of enrollment as more schools reopen to in-person learning.
He said officials are working with schools and families to understand why so many families have left and how to bring them back.
The exodus from public schools has occurred across the country. There is no national data available on the 2020-2021 enrollment decline, but an analysis of 33 states by the nonprofit Chalkbeat news organization covering education and The Associated Press published in December showed that public enrollment for Kindergarten to Grade 12 in the fall had fallen by about 500,000 students. compared to the previous school year.
Enrollment in California for 2020-2021 is down 2.6% from the previous school year, due to a combination of factors.
Fewer California parents have enrolled their children in kindergarten, a drop of 61,000 students and the largest drop in enrollment.
This could indicate that parents have delayed sending their children to kindergarten or enrolled them in private schools, which saw an overall increase in enrollment of 20,000, or 4%, from the previous year. The data also indicates that home schooling increased in the fall, the CDE said.
Some of California’s largest urban districts recorded the largest declines.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest, saw enrollment drop by nearly 22,000, or 4%, to 575,000, the CDE said.
Data released Thursday was collected from all school districts across the state in October, and education officials say it’s too early to know if the trend has continued since then.
Year-end numbers won’t be known for months, but the data helps illustrate how the pandemic has shaken public schools and raised concerns over funding for California’s 1,000 school districts, which is tied to enrollment. .
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal calls for schools not to be penalized for declining enrollment, but education advocates are seeking additional funding for low-income students, English learners and children in foster care.
“Any change in enrollment will have funding and equity impacts,” said Christopher Nellum, interim executive director of The Education Trust-West, an education equity advocacy group. “This will only exacerbate the problems that already existed.”
Nellum said schools will need to think strategically about how to engage black and brown students, who were more likely to spend the year in distance education than their white peers who moved to private schools or other learning options.
These families, who have been disproportionately affected by the virus, have also been more reluctant to send their children back to classrooms when they reopen. Schools will also have to find ways to convince defectors from private schools to return, he said.
For parents like Jonathan Alloy of San Francisco, this will be a lost cause.
Alloy kept her 8 and 10 year old children in a distance learning “pod” as classrooms remained closed, but recently decided to ditch the school district and town.
Alloy said he has lost faith in the city’s school district, which has been embroiled in scandals, infighting and lawsuits, including one launched by the city attorney over the district’s failure to reopen schools faster. San Francisco still does not have a timetable for the return of middle school and high school students to classrooms.
Because of this, combined with the high cost of living in San Francisco and the higher tuition fees at private schools, Alloy moved to Connecticut, closer to his wife’s family.
“Leaving is just overwhelming,” he said.