With public school enrollment across California declining, including in the Santa Barbara area, state officials launched a new task force to study the impacts and needs of schools across the system.
“I am committed to supporting the needs of all our schools and school districts, and while each school and community has its own unique history and conditions, declining enrollment is something that we are facing together,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said.
“For many communities, this is not a new challenge, but after two years of a pandemic, the impacts feel amplified and the future seems daunting,” Mr. Thurmond continued. “I want this task force to be intentional about understanding the why behind the drops and the sharing of ideas and local efforts that we may contemplate scaling to make a real difference.”
The task force will offer support and technical assistance to districts struggling amid the decreased enrollment. It will also analyze data to understand enrollment trends and the movement of students.
The task force is led by Dr. Lande Ajose, a vice president at the Public Policy Institute of California; Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers; Dr. Edgar Zazueta, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators; and Tatiana Davenport, CEO of the California Association of School Business Officials.
Enrollment in California’s public schools has plunged to below 6 million students, and the Santa Barbara community is not exempt from the decline.
In Santa Barbara County, 67,137 students were enrolled in the 2021-2022 school year, a decrease from 67,470 students in 2020-2021 and 69,006 students in 2019-2020.
For the 2018-2019 academic year, 69,379 students were enrolled, and 69,752 students were enrolled for the 2017-2018 school year.
More specifically, 13,891 students were enrolled in the 2021-2022 school year in Santa Barbara Unified School District. Last year, 14,205 students were enrolled, and 14,538 students were enrolled in the district in 2019-2020.
“It’s no secret that public education in California has seen a dip in enrollment, including here at Santa Barbara Unified. And we agree with the state that a deeper look is needed when it comes to the root causes of the decline,” Dr. Hilda Maldonado told the News-Press in a statement. “We look forward to informing this work in any way we might be asked, but we continue to be focused on the students that we do serve every day. As a community, we are responsible for student outcomes, and that is defined at the individual level and that will never change, regardless of enrollment numbers.”
Aside from the task force, Superintendent Thurmond is also sponsoring a handful of bills in the legislature meant to increase enrollment or help districts.
Among the legislation is SB 952 from Sen. Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, which would create a competitive grant opportunity for schools to maintain a dual language immersion program.
Both Sen. Limón and Superintendent Thurmond previously told the News-Press the bill could help attract parents to public schools as well as benefit students’ growth and development from a young age.
The bill “gives parents something to be excited about,” Superintendent Thurmond said, noting families have had to make countless sacrifices throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “We want them to see this as something positive about public schools. We know that dual language immersion programs are something that is popular among our families and not always available. It creates a reason for California to reinvest in California education.”
Mr. Thurmond has also backed legislation that would base school funding on enrollment as opposed to attendance and a bill to increase funding through the Local Control Funding Formula.
The superintendent has asked individuals who have ideas about enrollment or who wish to learn more about the task force to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.