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Pandemic Brings Huge Decline In Enrollment At LAUSD

Young students line up, socially distanced, in a school play yard.
First graders at Brainard Elementary demonstrate the very lengthy process of lining up, socially distanced, outside.
(Kyle Stokes
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The Los Angeles Unified School District has some 27,000 fewer students enrolled this year than last year, according to new data presented to the district's board of education this week. The enrollment decline is about three times the annual decline seen in years prior to the pandemic.

District leaders were caught off-guard by the steep drop.

“We were predicting that we were going to be about 9,000 students less this year," LAUSD Chief Strategy Officer Veronica Arreguin told board members.

District leaders say they plan to hire community engagement staff and enrollment counselors to help attract and retain students.

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Not Alone

LAUSD certainly isn't the only public school district to lose students during the coronavirus pandemic. Other large, urban districts, including San Diego and Long Beach, have also lost large numbers of students during the pandemic.

Statewide, the number of students enrolled in Pre-K-12 non-charter public schools dropped 3.2% this past school year compared to 2019-2020, according to data from the California Department of Education. On the flip side, charter school enrollment increased statewide last year — by 2.3%, albeit a smaller increase than in previous years.

Enrollment at LAUSD has been declining for close to 20 years, thanks to factors including the high cost of living and an aging population. The accelerated decline during the pandemic is bad news for, among other things, the district's finances.

The Impact

"Enrollment drives the budget. You lose kids, you lose money," said Pedro Noguera, dean of USC's Rossier School of Education. Once emergency funding runs out, the loss of students could mean schools have to close.

But at least some of the student exodus could be temporary. Some parents, for example, may have decided to homeschool their kids until the pandemic feels over.

Noguera said it's important to figure out where these kids are, and why they left. "Because some of those parents might come back if they're not satisfied with what they've chosen."

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