The pandemic has created a spiral of change for local public schools.
First, teachers and students moved to online instruction that lasted for months. Many campus programs and extracurricular offerings have been suspended or drastically changed to alternatives considered safe against the spread of COVID-19. Test results indicated that students paid the price by slowing their progress toward meeting state academic standards.
Local schools have also seen a loss of students. For some local districts, this means lost revenue from registrations.
Having fewer students often leads to reducing classes and laying off teachers.
In Novato, for example, declining enrollment has been linked to families leaving town or choosing to homeschool their children.
As seen in other districts, parents enrolled their children in private schools, which reopened their classrooms months earlier than public schools. These parents did not re-enroll their children in local public schools once those campuses were reopened to classroom instruction.
Statewide, for the first time in 20 years, public school enrollment fell below 6 million, a 1.8% year-over-year drop to just under 5.9 million students.
A report by the Bay Area News Group quoted Mike Fine, CEO of the State Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team for California Public School Districts, as saying it still takes some time. years of data to clarify long-term impacts and future projections.
His short-term assessment: “The reality is that there are fewer children. Birth rates play a big role in that, migration and immigration play a role in that, and then there are elements of parental choice for private, charters, and home schooling.
Many school districts had hoped that many of those students would return to public schools in the fall.
“There hasn’t really been a rebound. There has been a kind of continuation of these declines (in enrollments), more than expected,” Julien Lafortune, a researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, said in the Bay Area News Group report.
According to state Department of Education figures, public school enrollment in Marin for the 2021-22 year is 30,811, down more than 1,100 students from the previous school year.
That’s a local drop of 3.5% — a larger percentage drop than seen in statewide statistics.
But that was more in line with enrollment declines reported in the Bay Area.
Novato launched an advertising campaign, including television commercials, aimed at reversing the decline.
In the San Rafael City School District, enrollment is expected to increase thanks to the district’s transitional kindergarten program that has been made available to all 4-year-olds in each of its elementary schools.
The district expects an increase in enrollment next fall.
Catching up with in-person classroom instruction lost during the pandemic remains a top priority for local public schools that have consistently been among the best in the state for student achievement.
The challenge is to do this while balancing budgets affected by declining enrollment.
State and local support for our public schools is important to address this challenge in a way that places students’ post-pandemic return to school as the top priority.