One state is reporting alarming public school enrollment declines, hinting at a larger problem U.S education faces.
The pandemic has left the state of public education throughout the United States in shambles. Grades are rapidly falling behind standards, chronic absenteeism has become a growing concern, and now public school enrollments are falling at paces never seen before. California, one of America’s largest student-populated states, recently released new data showing just how far the public school enrollment crisis has gone in The Golden State.
On Monday, April 11th, the California Department of Education released data regarding public school enrollment. Shrinking for the fifth consecutive year in a row, Yahoo reported the news that total enrollment for students grades K-12 fell by 1.8%, or roughly 5.9 million, for the 2021-22 school year. This decline means that more than 110 thousand fewer students enrolled in school this year. The largest drops were seen in enrollments within grades one, four, seven, and nine. On the other hand, Kindergarten and 12th-grade enrollments reportedly increased.
According to claims made by The Mercury News, the reported drop in California’s public school enrollment brought new figures to the lowest numbers of students enrolled in over two decades. While enrollment has been dropping for years, even before the onset of the pandemic, COVID restrictions in California escalated these numbers. California was reputable for imposing some of the strictest mandates during the pandemic, and many California parents grew frustrated with distance learning. It is believed that many of these drops were a direct cause of parents pulling their children from public schools for alternative educations.
But it wasn’t just public schools enrollments that saw declines. Charter schools also were reported to have seen reductions. The new figures reported Monday also revealed that charter school enrollments fell 1.8% statewide. Charter schools, which operate as independent but still regulated schools have seen a rise in popularity since the pandemic rolled out, and it still remains a favorable option in the state, as nearly 12% of students in California enroll in the public school alternatives.
With public school enrollment and charter schools as well seeing a decrease, many are wondering where all those students are going. Some might not be getting any education at all. With chronic absenteeism on the rise, and large urban districts accounting for nearly one-third of the state’s decrease, many students are simply just not going to school anymore. However, data on private schools might point to a new growing trend in education.
Also in the data regarding public school enrollment, California reported one area where enrollment actually increased. Private school enrollment throughout California saw an uptick of nearly 2%. Interestingly, private schools in California were some of the only education facilities that remained open amid massive school shutdowns.
Many states have mirrored sentiments about the public school enrollment decline, and state legislators are working around the clock to propose new bills to combat the decline. School choice, or the belief that student funding should stick with each individual student, not the school system itself, has gained more traction than ever as parents’ trust in public education continues to fail.
As it stands, however, California has not been one of the numerous states pushing for more school choice legislation. There currently is no school choice voucher program, nor individual or corporate tax credits for private school choice. This could also be one of the many reasons families in The Golden State are leaving in droves. Regardless of the reason, the reports on public school enrollment are alarming, and California’s leaders need to do something to address the growing concern.