By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – California’s K-12 enrollment has fallen for the fifth consecutive year, dropping by more than 110,000 students in the 2021-2022 school year, according to new data released by the state on Monday.
California’s enrollment stands at 5,892,240 students, a 1.8% decrease from the previous school year. Enrollment officially dropped below 6 million students for the first time since the start of the century, CalMatters reported.
Since the pandemic began, California has seen its enrollment numbers fall by more than 270,000 students. During the 2020-2021 school year, California saw a 2.6% enrollment decrease, a loss of more than 160,000 students, according to the California Department of Education.
Though California has seen enrollment numbers trending downward since 2014-2015, officials said that COVID-19 disruptions are playing a role in the latest drops. During the first year of the pandemic, many California schools were closed and transitioned to distance learning.
The latest data shows that kindergarten enrollment has increased over the past year but lags far behind pre-pandemic totals. In fall 2020, the state saw a drop of more than 60,800 kindergarten students, and during this school year, only gained around 7,700.
The latest data also showed drops in charter school enrollment by about 12,600 students. The drop marks the first time charter school enrollment saw year-to-year enrollment declines in two decades, EdSource reported.
Enrollment declines on top of a reported rise in absenteeism during the pandemic could leave schools feeling the impact on their funding allocations.
Schools receive funding from the state based on average daily attendance, determined by enrollment and reduced by the number of absences. In the event of a significant drop in annual average daily attendance – as many schools saw during the pandemic – local education agencies face funding losses related to enrollment.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers have floated proposals to address funding for schools facing enrollment and absentee challenges amidst the pandemic. Within his budget proposal, the governor has included a measure that would allow schools to use the greater of their current year, prior year, or the average of the previous three years to calculate next year’s funding.
“This formula change will help districts with significant declining enrollment and better serve remaining students,” the governor’s budget summary states.
Additionally, Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, has introduced legislation that would base supplemental school funding on daily average student enrollment numbers instead of attendance. Under the bill, schools would be required to use 30% of their supplemental education to address “chronic absenteeism” – when a student misses at least 15 days of school in a year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“We are currently using an outdated system that only considers student attendance,” Sen. Portantino said in a statement in January, when the bill was introduced. “Now is the perfect time to implement structural reforms that will benefit every school district in California.”
The bill will be heard in committee on April 20.