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LAUSD Enrollment Shrank Again This Year — But Not As Much As Predicted

A man in a white collared shirt and a tie goes to shake the hand of a young boy in a polo. The man is standing in the middle of a school bus, and the boy is seated.
LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho goes for a handshake with Canterbury Avenue Elementary fifth-grader Nicolas Ticas.
(Kyle Stokes
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The Los Angeles Unified School District’s student enrollment numbers are down again this school year — but not by as much as district leaders expected, a hopeful sign after two straight years of alarming drops in the wake of the pandemic.

The new figures district officials released Tuesday suggest that many of the same broader demographic forces continue to batter LAUSD — including rising housing costs and a declining birthrate — but also that some of the COVID-related pressures on the district’s enrollment may be easing.

LAUSD’s K-12 enrollment stood at 422,276 students as of Sept. 23, the day designated for a new district-wide headcount. That figure doesn’t include students in adult programs, independent charter schools, or in pre-K programs, although it does include numbers from transitional kindergarten.

A chart that shows student enrollment in LAUSD-run schools and charter schools between 2012-13 and 2022-23. LAUSD-run schools' enrollment stand at 422,276 students in 2022-23, down from 566,604 in 2012-13. Charters' enrollment has increased from 89,112 students in 2022-23 to an estimated 113,474 students in 2022-23. The chart also shows that the overall number of students enrolled in L.A. public schools — both charter and district-run — has shrunk.
Chart reflects enrollment in grades TK-12, but does not include other early childhood or adult education programs.
( Kyle Stokes
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The 422,000-student count still represents a 1.9% drop from last year’s enrollment (about 430,000 students) — but it isn’t nearly as bad as the 4.1% drop that LAUSD officials forecasted last year.

“This would suggest that we’re starting to find a place of equilibrium,” said David Hart, the district’s chief financial officer, during a school board work session Tuesday. “Now the trick becomes: how do we grow?”

Why These Numbers Matter

LAUSD’s enrollment has been slowly, steadily shrinking since 2002, and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho noted Tuesday morning that the last time LAUSD posted an annual enrollment decline that small was 2013.

California funds public schools based on how many students actually attend classes; the student enrollment numbers LAUSD released Tuesday will ultimately have a direct impact on the district’s bottom line — and Carvalho has warned that several pandemic-era safety nets for LAUSD’s budget will soon expire.

Why LAUSD’s Enrollment Didn’t Fall As Far As Feared

District leaders have hoped the creation of new programs for younger students might help reverse the decline. Slightly higher-than-anticipated enrollments in transitional kindergarten — a state-funded early kindergarten program that LAUSD offers to all 4-year-olds — did contribute to Tuesday’s healthier enrollment figure.

During the first two years of the pandemic, kindergarten enrollments had dropped statewide as parents decided to skip that grade, which is optional under California law. Hart said that these parents’ wait-and-see approach to enrollment has complicated the district’s forecasting process.

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LAUSD also forecasted enrollment drops of roughly 6% or 7% in all elementary grades. Instead, enrollment in those grades only fell between 1% and 4%.

Another encouraging sign: enrollments were basically flat in ninth grade, suggesting that LAUSD high schools were successfully attracting students leaving middle schools.

What questions do you have about K-12 education in Southern California?
Kyle Stokes reports on the public education system — and the societal forces, parental choices and political decisions that determine which students get access to a “good” school (and how we define a “good school”).

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