Students walk to their classrooms at a middle school in Los Angeles on Sept.10, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)
The Los Angeles Unified School District has seen the second largest percentage enrollment decline in California over the past several years, according to education news website The 74.
The district’s enrollment fell from 639,337 in the 2015–16 academic year to 538,295 in 2022–23, a nearly 16 percent drop, or loss of about 100,000 students, the education outlet reported, citing California Department of Education data.
The district’s decline was surpassed only by that of the San Jose Unified School District, which saw an 18.4 percent drop in enrollment over the same seven-year period.
Last year, Los Angeles Unified officials reported
enrollment in the district has been falling by about 2.8 percent annually since its peak of 737,000 students in 2002.
The same report predicted the district’s enrollment will begin to decrease by 3.6 percent per year to 309,000 by 2031, or a 30 percent drop over the next decade.
Los Angeles Unified Chief Financial Officer David Hart said in another report from 2022 that new charter schools operating in district boundaries may be impacting the district’s enrollment.
There are currently more than 270 active charter schools—which receive government funding but operate independently—with over 112,000 students enrolled in LAUSD, according to the state’s education department.
In addition, charter schools in the district have seen an enrollment increase of about 1 percent per year since 2018, according to EdData, a state education database.
Morgan Polikoff, an education associate professor at the University of Southern California, also pointed to charter schools as a reason for the decline.
“Enrollment declines in [Los Angeles Unified] can be attributed to people enrolling in charter schools, which [the district] is one of the top largest charter sectors in the nation,” Mr. Polikoff told The 74
Mr. Polikoff also said the enrollment decline reflects the trend of families leaving California due to the rising costs of living.
The state’s population fell
0.4 percent from January 2022 to January 2023—falling below 39 million residents for the first time since 2015, according to the California Department of Finance. Meanwhile, the city of Los Angeles lost nearly 37,000 residents between 2022 and 2023, representing the biggest decline for a city in the state for the year.
The loss of students can lead to financial hardship for the district, Mr. Polikoff said.
“Every state has a different average daily attendance, so fewer seats in attendance on top of fewer kids enrolled, can greatly decrease the support and funds of districts,” he told the 74. “Having less funding can affect the overall structure of districts since it covers operating buildings, hiring teachers, labor costs and programs.”
Just a 1 percent decline can result in a loss of approximately $55 million in funding for the 2023–24 school year, according to district officials
With the passage of a $18.8 billion budget
for this school year, Supt. Alberto Carvalho said he’s beginning to prepare the district to operate with less funds, given the enrollment declines and loss of federal pandemic aid.
Over the next two school years, the district will invest $4.2 billion—most of which from one-time emergency COVID-19 relief funding—into class-size reduction, social workers, counselors, psychologists, professional development and increased compensation for employees, according to a June district statement.
Though the estimated budget isn’t available yet for the 2024–25 school year, district officials have predicted that unassigned funds—money in the general funds that have not yet been pledged for a project or use—will drop from $113.7 million at the end of this school year to $10.6 million by 2026–27.
Mr. Carvalho has warned the district since he took office in February 2022 to expect a sharp financial transition when pandemic funds run dry.
“This year’s budget is responsible and values-based, enabling Los Angeles Unified to fund and support the critical priorities of this board, even as one-time federal funding sunsets and the state grapples with a massive shortfall of revenue,” he said in a June statement when the 2023–24 budget was approved.