Enrollment has declined in California public schools for the fifth year in a row, including a 1.8% decrease from this year to last, according to new data released by the Department of Education.
In the San Diego Unified School District, total K-12 enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year is 114,467 students compared to 118,523 last year.
The decline across the state can be attributed to multiple factors, including families not having children, a slow down in immigration and Californians moving out of state, as well as students enrolling at charter and private schools or even turning to homeschool options, according to Troy Flint, a spokesperson with the California School Boards Association.
Prior to the start of the current school year, Eric Moten’s two daughters were enrolled at an elementary school within the district.
"You can see the decline in learning with the kids online and trying to keep their attention span up," Moten said.
He says he took issue with the district's mask mandate and enrolled his kids at a charter school before the start of this year.
"You can get access a lot quicker to the teacher. That was the quickest thing I noticed, because even with picking my daughters up at school, if the teacher didn't have an appointment, didn't care too much talking with you,” Moten said.
Flint says, like Moten, families across the state have opted for alternatives to public schools.
"There's been a lot of turmoil in public schools related to the pandemic, and that has also increased frustration and perhaps driven some people away at public schools,” Flint said.
The decrease in enrollment has an impact on how school infrastructure is supported and the resources that are offered to students, according to Flint. He says there are a few proposals that are on the table that address enrollment decline, including averaging three years of enrollment so that enrollment in public schools is not defined by the most recent years where it has been at its lowest.
“CSBA’s proposal is to include the 2019-20 year in that enrollment calculation, the last year before everything went haywire,” Flint said. “And so that should give schools a softer landing as they try to adjust to a lower enrollment while still using those enrollment figures before the pandemic to give them a little easier transition.”
Not every school has seen a decline. Kevin Eckery, the spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Dioceses of San Diego, says local Catholic schools have seen the largest increase in enrollment in two decades. Eckery says the K-8 enrollment is up by 15% while high schools have seen a 4% increase.
Jenny Passarelli who was vacationing with her family in San Diego Tuesday said it’s been a positive experience for her kids who attend an Inglewood-area elementary school.
"But, getting back to public school has been more exciting for my kids just because they get to see their friends again and their teachers and have their interaction,” Passarelli said.
Natalia Briggs feels differently and is considering alternatives for her daughter.
“I was one of the moms thinking about pulling my kid out of school,” Briggs said.
Moten questions if he’ll ever go back.
“The way it's set up now, it would take a lot to get them back into a public school,” Moten said.