California school enrollment falls for sixth straight year but numbers may be stabilizing

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California’s public school enrollment has dropped for the sixth straight year, but data released by the state Department of Education suggests the declines are slowing. 

According to statewide figures released Tuesday, the number of TK-12 students in public schools fell by 0.67 percent for the 2022-23 academic year, a decrease of 39,696 students from the previous year. By comparison, enrollment was down 1.84 percent in 2021-22 and 2.6 percent in 2020-21, the first year of the pandemic. 

Total enrollment from transitional kindergarten through grade 12 now stands at just over 5.85 million based on a moment-in-time headcount from Oct. 5 that factored in more than 900 school districts, 58 county offices of education and about 1,300 charter schools. 

The largest decreases in 2022-23 were in grades two, eight and 10, while enrollment increased in kindergarten and grades seven and 11. 

In Orange County, which has seen its population decline slightly in the wake of rising home prices and declining birth rates, public school enrollment dipped from 448,729 students in 2021-22 to 441,249 in 2022-23. However, kindergarten enrollment rose by nearly 2,500 students this year. 

Enrollment trends impact local schools in various ways. In the short term, Proposition 98, which sets a baseline for funding schools and community colleges, has generally helped districts maintain their funding levels, allowing for expanded programs and, in many cases, more time with students. School districts and charter schools have also maintained and expanded staff levels based on one-time COVID-19 relief funding, with many adding new programs.

However, declining enrollment is ultimately expected to leave districts with fewer resources.

The CDE said public school enrollment trends in California mirror reports from other states, including Michigan, Virginia and Illinois. The state also noted a year-over-year decline in private school enrollment of 3,147 students based on self-reported data.

California’s numbers are expected to undergo changes as a more comprehensive picture of enrollment becomes available later this year. Updated information will take into account local corrections to submitted data as well as fluctuations in student population that occur during the academic year.

To review enrollment data for the 2022–23 school year, visit the CDE’s DataQuest site.