California Schools Risk “Colossal” Loss of Dollars as Enrollment Dips | State and regional
Pending release of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed state budget for 2022-2023, California school district officials fear losing millions of dollars all at once, leading to staff cuts to a when students need more attention than ever.
After two years without being penalized for declining enrollment during the pandemic, school districts are bracing for a sudden drop in income next year as their funding is recalibrated to match current enrollments, which have fallen since COVID-19 closed California schools for the first time.
“I’ve never seen a drop in enrollments happen all at once like this,” said Andy Johnsen, director of San Marcos Unified in northern San Diego County. “The pandemic has changed everything. “
In 2020, state lawmakers decided to allow districts to use their pre-pandemic 2019-2020 enrollment and attendance figures to calculate their funding for the next two school years. But starting in fall 2022, funding levels will be determined by that year’s enrollment and attendance.
“Just to put it in perspective, we lost a few hundred students each year before the pandemic,” said Harold Sullins, associate superintendent of the City of San Bernardino Unified School District. “Last year we dropped 2,000 students. It’s about eight years of decline.
Without state help, San Bernardino City Unified could lose $ 27 million in funding due to declining enrollment, a significant portion of the district’s $ 971 million budget. Districts across the state are poised to take similar blows.
The impact of such reductions may vary by district. This could mean laying off employees or cutting language and arts programs. Ultimately, this will mean the elimination of the services that many students need, especially in the years to come as they attempt to recover from the challenges of virtual learning.
In 2018-19, California schools across the state lost approximately 23,000 students. Between the 2019-2020 and 2020-21 school years, public school enrollment in California fell nearly seven times that figure, with more than 160,000 students dropping out.
To calculate what it pays to individual districts each year, the state uses average daily attendance, so not only is enrollment important, but so is ensuring that students are in class every day. . A new bill introduced on Monday by State Senator Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from the San Fernando Valley, seeks to change that policy and fund schools based on enrollment, which would generate $ 3 billion for them. state schools.
Before COVID-19, low birth rates and migration patterns caused enrollment in public schools to decline annually. During the pandemic, kindergarten enrollment fell by about 61,000 students, a large part of the overall decline.
“Kindergarten is not compulsory,” Sullins said. “At our previous grade levels, many of our parents chose to retain their students. “
When physical classrooms reopened in fall 2021, strict quarantine and independent study rules also hampered attendance. Districts that did not offer independent studies to quarantined students were required to count those students as absent, thus losing their attendance-based funding. Sullins said the policy had a “huge impact” on attendance rates.
District leaders said a sudden drop in funding would punish districts both for declining enrollments caused by the pandemic and for failing to comply with unreasonable demands for independent studies.
“The public just doesn’t get it,” said Lisa Gonzales, sales director for Mt. Diablo Unified. “We are all facing colossal funding cuts next year.
Gonzales said his district of 30,000 students in northern California could lose $ 24 million if the state does nothing.
Gonzales declined to comment on exactly where the district would make the cuts, but said she planned to issue layoff notices. She said that by making the cuts, school districts are first determining what they absolutely must follow by law, such as a teacher in each class and transportation for students with disabilities. Then they look at how they could expand class sizes and eliminate some positions.
“You don’t need to have a librarian and a counselor,” she said. “Are they important and valuable? Absoutely.”
Administrators interviewed by CalMatters spoke about several possible solutions, but they fall into two general categories – and seek to take advantage of the state’s anticipation of a large budget surplus.
First, the state could increase overall funding for schools by adjusting the formula that determines most of the funds districts receive from the state. The formula consists of ‘core’ funding for all students and ‘extra’ and ‘concentration’ grants for districts serving English learners, foster children and students eligible for free meals. or at a reduced price.
“In an ideal world, what would benefit is an increase in the base,” Gonzales said. “It could reverse the attendance problem we have. “
A second option: the state could gradually reduce funding, giving districts more time to downsize.
A spokesperson for the governor declined to comment on the content of the next proposed budget. The state legislature is aware of the fiscal crisis threatening the districts.
Mike Fine, managing director of the State Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, spoke at a Nov. 30 hearing for the Education Funding Subcommittee of the State Assembly and recommended that districts be temporarily funded based on their three-year average attendance rates.
Fine said that before the pandemic, around 60% of the districts were in decline. Last year, all but one of the state’s 58 counties saw a decline.
The governor and the legislature have tried to help districts recover from the pandemic. The 2021-2022 state budget ushered in historic investments in K-12 education. Much of this has gone into ongoing funding, like sending more money to districts with higher concentrations of at-risk students.
Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy analyst at the California Budget & Policy Center, said the pledges indicate lawmakers in Sacramento are aware of the harshness of some communities that have been affected by COVID-19.
“The governor and the legislature deserve credit,” Kaplan said. “The increase in the concentration subsidy has recognized that there is a legitimate need. Students in these communities need support.
Even so, the state and local districts underestimated how low enrollment and attendance rates will drop this year.
“Would they really have known that there would be so many students who didn’t come?” Kaplan said. “Could they really know how difficult there would be?” I do not think so.
Joe is the K-12 education reporter for CalMatters. Her stories use data to highlight inequalities in California public schools. Prior to joining CalMatters in June 2021, he was an education reporter at KPBS, San Diego’s public media station. Previously, he covered Coachella Valley schools for The Desert Sun, a Palm Springs daily. He holds a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of California at Irvine and an MA from Columbia Journalism School.