California’s K-12 public schools this year experienced the biggest drop in enrollment in the past five years, according to new state data released Thursday.
While the number of students at traditional public schools has steadily declined, the number attending charter schools in the state continues to increase.
“This data provides a critical snapshot of all students in California, highlighting trends that show areas where students are improving, where they’re struggling and where additional resources are needed,” Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of public instruction, said Thursday.
A total of 34,135 fewer students were enrolled this school year compared to last, more than four times the drop experienced the prior year. Until this year, the biggest single-year decline in the past five years had been 8,783 from the 2014-15 to 2015-16 school year.
Significant trends over the last five years show an overall 0.8 percent decline in student enrollment statewide, from 6.2 million in 2014-15 to 6.19 million in 2018-19. Meanwhile, charter school enrollment grew from 544,980 students to 652,933 students during the same time period.
Research shows that by 2030, only 1 out of every 5 Californians will be a child, as a result of declining birth rates, said Samantha Tran, senior managing director for education at the nonprofit student advocacy group Children Now. In 1970, 1 out of every 3 Californians was under 18 years old.
“This has a huge implication in terms of our economy, as well as the composition of our population,” she said. “Every kid counts and it’s important that we support them.”
Mirroring California’s changing demographics, the percentage of Latino students at all public schools continues to climb — from 53.6 percent to 54.6 percent over five years. Meanwhile, the percentage of white students has dropped from 24.6 percent to 22.9 percent and the percentage of African-American students has fallen from 6 percent to 5.4 percent.
“Declining enrollment is a challenging issue for school districts across the state,” said Troy Flint, spokesman for the California School Boards Association, noting that it’s hard to predict how many students will leave and what schools will be affected. “That makes budgeting a difficult art, and that’s something that our districts are grappling with — both the larger ones because of the scale they’re operating at, as well as the smaller ones who don’t have access to a demographer and for whom one small change, relatively speaking, can have a big impact on their organization.”
The percentage of students statewide who are English learners dropped from 22.1 percent to 19.3 percent over five years, while the percentage of students reclassified as fluent in English jumped from 16 percent to 18.3 percent.
“The data continues to demonstrate the diversity we have in the state and the strength of that diversity,” Tran said. Even though the percentage of English learners is declining, she said the data reinforces the importance of supporting students through bilingual or multilingual programs.
Her organization is urging the state to fund training for teachers to fully implement the “English Learner Roadmap,” a set of guidelines adopted in 2017 that outlined a vision for educators to support students whose primary language is not English.
While the number of English learners has declined over the last five years, the percentage of low-income students based on their eligibility for free and reduced priced meals has increased slightly, growing from 60.4 percent of all public school students in 2014-15 to 60.9 percent this school year.
Compared to other states, California has the highest rates of youth poverty and English learners, yet has one of the lowest per-pupil funding rates, Flint said.
“Our districts, by and large, do not have the resources that we need to serve all of our students well and provide them with an education that prepares them for college, careers and civic life,” he said. “This problem persists, and it’s perhaps the greatest challenge to the future of California.”
The data also shows an increase in charter school enrollment from 9.2 percent to 10.6 percent of public school students statewide over the last five years. At the same time, there remain significant gaps between the two systems in the number of students they serve who are English learners, have disabilities or deal with other challenges, such as homelessness.
For example, while 19.8 percent of students in traditional public schools are English learners, only 15.1 percent of students in charter schools are not fluent in English this school year, according to the data.
Although charter schools have come under increased scrutiny recently as the governor and Legislature have considered bills to strengthen laws regulating how the schools operate, California Charter Schools Association spokeswoman Brittany Chord Parmley said families appreciate the alternatives they provide to traditional public schools.
“California’s charter public school sector is a response to families who are desperate for an alternative to schools that left them behind decades ago,” she said. “But it is not enough to simply provide something different. That’s why high-quality charter schools are public, free and open to all kids.”
The enrollment data is available on the California Department of Education Data Quest website under the “Student Demographics” category.
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Linda 3 years ago3 years ago
Charter Schools are free California public schools. Students are just moving from one type of California School to another.
Moving from Traditional to Charter.
Kristine 4 years ago4 years ago
This has more to do with California sexualizing children through their sex ed program. And misleading children about gender by teaching them ridiculous things starting in kindergarten. There’s a large portion of the state that will not put up with this! So off to Christian school and homeschooling we go, until we can sue the state for exposing children to inappropriate content, and scientifically false information !
Concerned 4 years ago4 years ago
Kristine, I think you should really re-enroll in school.
Lisa Disbrow 4 years ago4 years ago
Please read Larry Sands analysis on CA per pupil spending. Larry can show how this is inaccurate given the monies withheld from this calculation.
As a public school teacher I believe its time for many CA families to reject public education due to sexual/anti-family indoctrination and failing academics.
Lee Pontes 4 years ago4 years ago
Wow, this article totally misses the point. It does not tell the right story. According to these numbers, there are about 34K fewer students in public schools but 108K more students in charter schools, so actually the number of students in CA has increased, not decreased. And until Sacramento understands that and considers new ways to fund schools, public schools will continue in decline …
John Fensterwald 4 years ago4 years ago
Lee, charter schools are public schools, too. The decline in attendance of 34,000 overall includes the growth of charter schools as a subgroup. Attendance in traditional public schools was 5.5 million students. Go here for the breakdown.
Tommy Courtney 4 years ago4 years ago
The growth in charter schools should cause public schools to think, What are we doing to cause parents and students to leave? In my opinion it is the constant barrage of Leftist indoctrination, combined with the confined curriculum. The old "one size fits all" just doesn't cut it for many students today. Also to be quite frank I believe many are simply fed up with the constant focus on "big cities" LA, Oakland, San Francisco, … Read More
The growth in charter schools should cause public schools to think, What are we doing to cause parents and students to leave? In my opinion it is the constant barrage of Leftist indoctrination, combined with the confined curriculum. The old “one size fits all” just doesn’t cut it for many students today. Also to be quite frank I believe many are simply fed up with the constant focus on “big cities” LA, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego. I spoke with Tony Thurmond and shared this view along with asking him to be through and fair while chairing the Charter Reform Board and see what is working for charters that public schools might use as well. One great advantage is no strikes as their teachers are free to make up their own minds and also free to earn merit pay. He assured me that no one owned him and he would be fair.
Dr. Bill Conrad 4 years ago4 years ago
We continue to frame problems in CA K-12 education as a problem with funding. I think it would be more productive to look at decreasing enrollment in California schools through the frame of failures in student academic achievement. State test results demonstrate the inablity of the system to meet the academic needs of our students with fewer than 1/2 of third graders meeting reading and math standards. This is just not acceptable and … Read More
We continue to frame problems in CA K-12 education as a problem with funding. I think it would be more productive to look at decreasing enrollment in California schools through the frame of failures in student academic achievement. State test results demonstrate the inablity of the system to meet the academic needs of our students with fewer than 1/2 of third graders meeting reading and math standards. This is just not acceptable and parents can clearly see it despite efforts of school leaders to obfuscate this crisis by redirecting focus on the whole child and building a multi-ring circus of dashboards that includes an academic dashboard that inappropriately transfers scale score points from high performers to low performers masking the poor academic performance especially for students of color, economically disadvantaged students, English Learners, and Students with Disability.
What are parents to do when even the state cannot honestly report performance? Diffuses focus to a myriad of goals for students? Builds a fraudulent accountability system that values social-emotional growth over academic achievement? Fails to demand that colleges of education transform into systems that recruit highly qualified candidates and trains them to become effective teachers within the real world of school districts. Fails to clearly represent charter school performance and hold them accountable keeping parents in the dark and hoping for the best for their children.
School districts themselves contribute to the fog of education by developing voluminous LCAPS rather than coherent, aligned, and quality ones! School districts also continue to conflate means with ends and use special case to cover over system-wide failures in performance both by professionals and by students. School districts also allocate human and material resources in ways that exacerbate racial inequities.
Is it any wonder that parents and students are running to the hills looking for solutions? Time to look in the mirror rather than continue to blame the victims!
mr isaac 4 years ago4 years ago
I went to your website Dr. Conrad (https://sipbigpicture.com/home/.) It’s a little hard to see for something called Big Picture. Your point is well taken though. Ed-Data.org has something close to your site, but the news is the same; our kids can’t read, write or do math. Charters are not helping ‘the big picture.’ I think that is the point here.
Dr. Bill Conrad 4 years ago4 years ago
Thanks Mr. Isaac, Thank you for your support! I agree that my Big Picture Focus has been lost a bit on the site as I have been moving to a focus on Student Voice. The Big Picture is driven by a theory of action that supports a focus on student outcomes especially academic achievement through the systematic improvement and alignment of professional practices, curricula, professional development/collaboration, and metrics for both practices and student outcomes. You can … Read More
Thanks Mr. Isaac,
Thank you for your support! I agree that my Big Picture Focus has been lost a bit on the site as I have been moving to a focus on Student Voice.
The Big Picture is driven by a theory of action that supports a focus on student outcomes especially academic achievement through the systematic improvement and alignment of professional practices, curricula, professional development/collaboration, and metrics for both practices and student outcomes.
You can see bigger picture of the big picture in the blog section and in the Resources and Tools section. Thanks for the critique!