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San Diego County Public Schools Saw Big Enrollment Drops Due To Pandemic

Inside of a classroom at Blossom Valley Elementary in El Cajon with plastic d...

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: Inside of a classroom at Blossom Valley Elementary in El Cajon with plastic dividers sitting on desks, August 28, 2020.

Schools in San Diego County and across California saw steep drops in enrollment this year as parents pulled their students from the public school system for other alternatives amid the pandemic, according to newly released state data.

Statewide, the year-over-year enrollment drop was 3% — going from 5.5 million students in 2019-2020 to 5.3 million in 2020-2021, according to the state data. This compares to a drop of less than 1% during the previous two years.

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

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The drop was even greater in San Diego County, where traditional public schools lost more than 17,000 students this school year. That’s about 4% of total countywide enrollment.

San Diego Unified, the county’s largest district, also saw a 4% decline, with enrollment dropping from 102,270 to 97,968.

“This was due to parents who wanted to find some alternative somewhere from what was primarily a distance learning program in our district for most of the year,” said Richard Barrera, president of the San Diego Unified School Board.

Reported by Joe Hong

Barrera said the most significant drop was in Kindergarten, which is optional for California students.

“We know that we had parents who just decided this was not the year that they wanted their students to start school,” he said. “That was the biggest enrollment decline.”

State funding for school districts is usually determined by enrollment. But thanks to federal stimulus and additional money from the state budget, San Diego Unified and other districts won’t suffer financially from the enrollment decline, at least for the time being.

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“They are basing funding for school districts on the 19-20 year enrollment period,” Barrera said. “They’re holding districts harmless for the enrollment decline as a result of the pandemic.”

Barrera said as schools open up, he expects enrollment trends to go back to what they were before the pandemic, a steadier decline of about 1% each year.

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Photo of Joe Hong

Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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