Enrollment in California public schools declined by over 160,000 students amid the pandemic, new data show

California public school
Bryant Elementary School kindergarten teacher Chris Johnson sets up his classroom on April 09, 2021 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • New data show enrollment in California public schools for 2020-2021 declined by over 160,000.
  • The Los Angeles Times reported that it’s the largest decline in the state in 20 years.
  • In addition to California, the pandemic has also affected enrollment in Iowa and Arizona.
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The coronavirus pandemic has caused a major drop in student enrollment in public schools, new data from the California Department of Education show.

The number of students enrolled in California’s public schools plummeted to 6,002,523 students in the 2020-2021 school year from 6,163,001 in the 2019-2020 school year. That’s a decrease of 2.6%.

Public school officials expressed concern at the steep drop, but optimism that the numbers could rebound when schools fully reopen.

“While there are many reasons to stay optimistic that enrollment will rebound as conditions improve, allowing more schools to safely return to in-person instruction, we also must help schools identify opportunities to engage with families who either sought new options for their students during the pandemic or need additional resources and support to connect with school and succeed,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said in a press release.

Many schools across the country turned to remote learning last year, closing schools to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Since then, some schools have been slow to reopen, and others have pivoted to hybrid models. Around half of elementary schools were open for full in-person learning as of last month, according to the Associated Press.

Though student enrollment in California public schools had been declining for several years, this past year’s plunge is a much larger decrease for California public schools than in previous years. The Los Angeles Times, reported that it’s the largest drop for public school enrollment in the Golden State in two decades.

An analysis by the nonprofit organization EdSource, which focuses on California education, looked at California public school enrollment data since the 1999-2000 academic year. The nonprofit found that the last largest drop was between the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 academic year. Enrollment declined to 6,192,121 in 2009-2010 from 6,252,029 in 2008-2009 – a drop of 59,908.

The largest declines in enrollment by grade in the state occurred in kindergarten and sixth grade. The Los Angeles Times reported that the decline in kindergarten enrollment was over 60,000.

California isn’t the only state reporting a drop in enrollment as the pandemic continues. Arizona enrollment data also shows a decline by 38,000 students from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021, as reported by a local ABC News station. KCCI, a news station in Des Moines, Iowa, reported that public school enrollment in Iowa dropped by almost 6,000 students from the year before. KCCI added that this is the first decline in enrollment for the state in a decade.