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A Future with Fewer Students?

Student enrollment projections presented for the Los Alamitos Unified School District

A banner announcing enrollment for the Los Alamitos Unified School District hangs outside McGaugh Elementary school in Seal Beach. A new projection predicts McGaugh will see a 15% drop in student enrollment over the next ten years.
A banner announcing enrollment for the Los Alamitos Unified School District hangs outside McGaugh Elementary school in Seal Beach. A new projection predicts McGaugh will see a 15% drop in student enrollment over the next ten years.

Declining enrollment is impacting K-12 campuses across California. For the first time in two decades, overall enrollment statewide dropped below 6 million students in 2021, EdSource reported.

Fewer students are attending public schools in coastal counties. In Orange County, enrollment dropped by more than 45,000 students over the last twenty years. And while Covid-19 shut down schools and disrupted attendance starting in 2020, the trend of declining enrollment predates the pandemic.

Why does it matter? Fewer students could mean less funding for public education. For example, the Long Beach Unified School District has had a 3% drop in student enrollment each of the past two years, reports The Long Beach Post, with each percentage drop translating to a loss of $7-$8 million. For Inglewood Unified, declining enrollment led to the closure of an elementary school this year.

At the June 14 Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education workshop, board members and the public got a closer look at what student enrollment may look like at the district’s schools over the next ten years.

In a roughly 30-minute presentation, Ron Van Orden of the firm PowerSchool first explained the big-picture influences on enrollment.

“The overarching factor is there’s just fewer school-age children,” Van Orden said, explaining that less people are having children and the people who do are waiting longer to start families and having fewer kids. He also said fewer people are migrating to California. He quoted the California Department of Finance’s prediction that there will be an 11% drop in the number of school-age children living in the state by the 2029-30 school year.

Van Orden said in addition to demographics, his predictions also factored in two residential housing developments in the area ( The Los Alamitos Luxury Apartments and a project on Lampson Avenue) which could draw new families to the area, kindergarten and the expansion of Universal Transitional Kindergarten (UTK), inter-district transfers and the aging of grade cohorts through the system.

What is being projected?

Van Orden offered a conservative projection, which reflects fewer students overall and a moderate, or more optimistic prediction. The conservative projection showed a dip of 422 students over five years from 9,102 students in 2021 to 8,680 in 2026. The moderate projection showed decreases in the first few years and then a slight increase with enrollment at 9,134 students in 2026.

A slide from the PowerSchool presentation at the Los Alamitos USD Board of Education June 14 workshop that shows projections for student enrollment in the district for the next ten years.
A slide from the PowerSchool presentation at the Los Alamitos USD Board of Education June 14 workshop that shows projections for student enrollment in the district for the next ten years.

Which schools are most impacted?

In his closing slide Van Orden showed which of the district’s nine campuses could see the biggest enrollment declines over the next ten years. According to the PowerSchool projections, Hopkinson Elementary in Rossmoor would see the biggest impact with a 31% drop in enrollment in ten years. Hopkinson had 638 students according to its 2021 School Accountability Report Card.

Slide from Los Alamitos USD Board of Education June 14 workshop that shows which campuses will have the biggest projected enrollment declines.
Slide from Los Alamitos USD Board of Education June 14 workshop that shows which campuses will have the biggest projected enrollment declines.

McAuliffe Middle School could see a 17% decline in its student population in ten years, Los Alamitos Elementary could see a 16% drop over the same time period, and McGaugh Elementary was projected to see a 15% decrease, according to PowerSchool’s prediction.

At the workshop, Superintendent Andrew Pulver, Ed.D, said Rossmoor Elementary is the smallest school in the district. It had 541 students according to its 2021 School Accountability Report Card.

To help balance enrollment, especially as new housing developments emerge, Dr. Pulver brought up possibly changing the district’s school attendance boundaries . He suggested creating attendance boundaries for Weaver Elementary, the one school in the district that has no attendance zone. “But it could help try to equalize the number of residents within each school to help all schools be successful or balance out the home attendance,” he said.

Dr. Pulver said parents would still be able to choose which school they would like their child to attend.

California Lawmakers take Action on Declining Enrollment

Despite fewer students and the potential for less funding, California lawmakers have acted to help ease the potential budget impact of declining enrollment. In March we reported Los Alamitos USD was anticipating taking a big financial hit this upcoming school year due to declining enrollment. But in the budget deal struck between lawmakers and Governor Gavin Newsom last month, schools were spared. Districts will be allowed to use the greater of a school district’s current year, prior year, or the average of three prior years’ average daily attendance for funding.

There’s also legislation and other action being debated to address the issue. In April, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced a task force on declining enrollment. One bill Thurmond supports would help schools convert to dual language immersion programs “to steer families back to California schools.”

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