LAUSD Enrollment Could Soon Dip Below 400K, New Forecast Says. At Its Height More Than 730K Students Attended
The number of students in Los Angeles Unified schools has been falling for years. Now, school district staff fear the drain may be accelerating.
In a new budget forecast Thursday, LAUSD officials predicted that enrollment will decline by 36,000 students — enough to drop enrollment in the nation’s second-largest school district below 400,000 students — by the start of classes in Fall 2023.
That’s an even more pessimistic forecast than the LAUSD officials delivered in December, in which they predicted a 25,000-student drop.
LAUSD officials are more optimistic that the district will have cash to spare over the next three school years, thanks in part to extraordinary COVID-19 relief money from the state and federal government. They now expect to close out the 2023-24 school year with more than $425 million in cash left to spend.
But officials on Thursday warned the sugar rush of pandemic aid will soon wear off, leaving the district to reckon with some of the problems that come with running a growing number of under-enrolled schools. In California, a school’s funding level is closely tied to its enrollment.
“It is very much our intent,” said LAUSD chief financial officer David Hart, “to delve into these numbers to understand what is transpiring with regards to a reduction in our enrollment … and is that by grade, is that by region?”
Two decades ago, LAUSD enrolled more than 737,000 students. But falling birth rates and rising housing costs have eroded that number over the last two decades. Competition between LAUSD campuses and charter schools — publicly funded, privately run, tuition-free schools — has also played a factor, but even charters’ enrollments have been basically flat for the last five years.
Now, enrollment is down in public schools across California. The pandemic has also prompted a lot of parents to make different enrollment choices, like delaying kindergarten enrollment.
In January, LAUSD officials cited declining enrollment when they announced plans to close one middle school in Mid-City and relocate another in Westchester. The proposed changes have provoked outrage from parents and staff, who say they were shocked by the announcement and who say there’s no reason to act immediately.
New LAUSD superintendent Alberto Carvalho has promised to study the district’s enrollment decline during his first 100 days on the job.