The school exodus in California, accentuated by Covid closures, has reached alarming levels, with enrollment dropping below 6 million for the first time in more than 20 years, official figures released Monday, April 11, showed.

The state Department of Education’s new report for the 2021-2022 school year shows enrollment in California public schools at approximately 5.9 million, a decrease of more than 110,000 students from last year, representing a drop of 1.8%.

According to the LA Times, the state’s K-12 population had not fallen below 6 million since 2000, when the pandemic began.

While Covid exacerbated the problem, as California closed schools for a year, forcing education online, the decline has happened for the fifth consecutive year. Hence, districts face the challenge of getting the children who have not returned to school. 

“One of the questions that we just have to come back to is, just where are those kids?” said Heather J. Hough, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education.

“We don’t have satisfying data to answer that question,” she emphasized. 

Among the factors that experts attribute to the drop in public school enrollments are increased enrollment in private institutions, a preference to continue schooling at home, either because they are against the mandate for facemasks in the classroom or fear of contagions. 

Another potential cause may be the departure of family members to other states due to the more onerous and more prolonged restrictions implemented by the governor of California, which affected jobs and increased the cost of living for Californians, mainly due to the high cost of housing. 

In addition to declining enrollment, absenteeism poses financial difficulties for many school districts since the budget is subject to the number of attendances.

To reverse this situation, Governor Gavin Newsom included a measure within his budget proposal that would allow schools to use the highest attendance figure from either their current year, the previous year, or the average of the last three years to calculate the following year’s funding.

Flintridge, D-La Cañada, proposed tying funding to annual enrollment rather than attendance.

The report shows that the most significant drops were among first, fourth, seventh, and ninth graders. Kindergarten enrollment increased compared to last year but did not offset the sharp 12% drop in 2020-21. 

Charter school enrollment also declined to 678,057 this school year, with a loss of 12,600 students.

A more significant drop in enrollment was evident among white students, at 4.9% regarding racial assessment. Black students followed these at 3.6%, Asian students at 1.9%, and Latino students at almost 1%.

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