(The Center Square) – A new analysis from The 74 found over 1,400 California K-12 schools lost more than 20% of their students since the pandemic, highlighting struggles relating to the state’s low birthrate, high outmigration, and parents pulling their students out of the public school system.
“What we’re finding is these kids aren’t going to other school districts: they’re leaving the system entirely,” said California Policy Center Vice President of Government Affairs Lance Christensen in an interview with The Center Square. “Homeschooling has seen a dramatic increase. California has lost a lot of people too.”
Of the over 1,400 schools with a decline of 25% or more, 125 are in Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the second largest school district in the nation. LAUSD’s decline is only eclipsed by New York City Public Schools, which had 270 schools facing such a decline.
“Some have moved out of state, a lot have left and gone to home school or private school, and there there’s hundreds of thousands of kids where we have no idea where they are at all,” Christensen said.
Notably, Christensen said much of the decline appears to be in school districts not in heavily Democratic areas, but those in nearby districts, such as those surrounding Los Angeles.
In California, homeschooling is up 78% between 2017 and 2022, suggesting parents are looking for other alternatives in a public school system that has left the majority of students failing to meet state standards for each subject.
An analysis in 2023 from the Washington Post found “home schooling’s surging popularity crosses every measurable line of politics, geography and demographics.” The analysis also found there was “found no correlation between school district quality, as measured by standardized test scores, and home-schooling growth,” upending narratives that home-schooling is primarily for wealthy or religious families.
California has experienced six years of public school enrollment declines, which the Public Policy Institute of California says is driven in large part by enrollment in more affordable states, decreasing birth rates, and the simultaneous growth of both homeschooling and parents moving their children to the private education system.
The average tuition of K-12 private schools in California is $16,637 according to a 2023 publication from the Education Data Initiative, while California governor Gavin Newsom has appropriated $23,519 per pupil in in “TK-16,” which includes students from the newly created “transitional kindergarten” grade before kindergarten and four years of college education.
Despite the declines in enrollment, the California public school system is nonetheless seeking to grow the ranks of its teachers to lower the teacher-to-student ratio in an attempt to improve student learning outcomes. Christensen believes that this is largely an attempt to increase the number of public school teachers’ union beneficiaries despite low evidence the public school system’s decrease in the teacher-to student-ratio can efficiently improves learning compared to other programmatic changes, such as adopting traditional literacy programs.
“The CTA wants to have more members so this is an easy way to boost their membership,” Christensen said.
Though California faces a $68 billion budget deficit and falling enrollment, Newsom has proposed maintaining education spending for the 2024-2025 fiscal year at similar levels to the 2023-2024 fiscal year, suggesting education remains a top priority for his Democratic administration.
California continues to experience the highest outmigration in the nation, a condition that led S&P to reduce its outlook for the state’s general obligation bonds from “positive” to stable.”