LAUSD enrollments drop by 30,000 students amid COVID-19
Enrollment in the Los Angeles Unified School District has fallen by more than 27,000 students since last year, a drop of nearly 6% – a much steeper drop than in any recent year.
The comparison is based on an annual tally called “standard day,” the fifth Friday of each new school year, September 17 of that year. Last year’s total enrollment for preschool to grade 12 was 466,229. This year’s figure for that same date is 439,013, according to data provided by LA Unified which will be presented to the school board on Tuesday.
Other data released by LA Unified indicates other potential issues. The district estimates that between 70% and 80% of school staff are on the verge of being fully immunized against COVID-19 by the district’s October 15 deadline, indicating that thousands of staff are threatened with dismissal, which would exacerbate another problem: more than 2000 unfilled jobs.
“We are still seeing the impact of COVID,” said Veronica Arreguin, district strategy director, of the drop in enrollment. Arreguin also noted that much of the drop was expected, in line with many years of declining enrollments linked to lower birth rates, families moving to more affordable areas and other factors.
Even so, the shortfall is about double what planners in the nation’s second-largest school district predicted. The district plans to act aggressively to figure out what is going on and what to do about it.
“If this is something we can change,” said Arreguin, “we have to change.”
The decline is not unique to LA Unified.
Enrollment fell across the country last year as families and school systems grappled with a pandemic that interrupted in-person education for much of the year in most places and also urged concerned families to keep children at home when given the choice to return.
Statewide, kindergarten to grade 12 public school enrollment fell nearly 3% to 160,000 students last year, according to data from the California Department of Education. This is the largest drop in the past 20 years, exceeding a 1% drop between October 2008 and October 2009. More than a third of the drop is attributable to a drop in kindergarten enrollment.
The causes are varied, with economic factors at play – the high cost of living, including gentrification, has driven families away from the once affordable urban core and also from the adjacent suburbs served by LA Unified. Another factor was the limits of immigration, which channeled a constant supply of families with young children to LA Unified. The influence of the pandemic is difficult to pin down and measure.
For the 2020-21 school year, with campuses closed due to the pandemic, kindergarten enrollments fell by nearly 6,000 students from the previous year, with many families unhappy that children kindergarten students must take the online courses. In a more typical year, the number of kindergarten students would have declined by about 2,000.
Unexpected declines in younger grades continued this year and, to a lesser extent, also affected colleges, said Tony Atienza, district director of budget services and financial planning.
The overall decline in registrations at LA Unified last year was about 4%, down from about 2% during the recent pre-pandemic period.
“Enrollment in Los Angeles public schools has declined steadily over the past two decades due to a number of factors, including the emigration of young families to the Inland Empire and other parts of the world. outside LAUSD’s borders and a drop in immigration, ”said Professor John John. Rogers said. “Along with this general decline in enrollment, the past two decades have seen an increase in the proportion of students enrolling in charter schools and a relative decline in the proportion of students attending non-charter schools at LAUSD. “
The current drop is also affecting charter schools in the Los Angeles area, some charter and district officials said. However, during the 2020-21 school year, charter school enrollments in California increased by about 2.3%, according to a recent report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. A Los Angeles charter, Public Policy Charter School, south of downtown, is expected to close on Friday due to what its board members have described as an irreversible low enrollment rate.
The drop will put additional pressure on many LA Unified schools struggling to attract enough students to stay open. Schools are funded primarily through enrollment and attendance, and have many fixed costs even when enrollment – and the funding that comes with it – declines. LA schools will be spared most of this fallout in the short term as the district has been inundated with COVID relief funding.
It’s always something to worry about, school board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin said.
“I am very concerned about the declining enrollment, especially for our most disadvantaged students, small schools and the overall financial health of our district,” Franklin said. Some schools and programs, she added, have turned the tide through promotion, neighborhood canvassing and after-school specials.
Another persistent problem is that the district cannot find enough candidates to fill the vacancies in key teaching, mental health and nursing positions as well as maintenance jobs. In a report prepared for Tuesday’s board meeting, officials note that they have 622 vacant teaching positions. And, as of September 20, 39% of teachers working with the 15,000 distance learning students were substitutes.
The district is also looking for 334 construction and land workers, 189 registered professional nurses, more than 300 educational assistants, more than 600 psychiatric social workers, 272 teachers for a special program to accelerate math and English in young students in below grade level.
Meanwhile, the October 15 deadline is approaching for all LA Unified employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Compared to the country as a whole, the district’s vaccination rate is impressive, but around 1 in 5 employees could be at risk of losing their job based on the number of workers currently immunized.
A vaccination deadline is also looming for students aged 12 and over. Students who wish to participate in any extracurricular activity affiliated with the school must receive their dose of the two-dose diet by October 3.
Times editor Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.