Between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and the start of the 2020-21 school year, the district lost about 800 students, Wold said. Though the district had anticipated that many of them would come back or move elsewhere by the following year, the decline more than doubled to just under 2,000 students this school year.
The enrollment drop was spread among every grade level. Some of it was due to families not enrolling their children in kindergarten and transitional kindergarten. Also, fewer students transitioned into high school from middle school and elementary to middle school, Wold said. It’s unclear where they went instead of staying in the district, Wold said.
He also chalked up some enrollment loss to COVID anxiety, especially among families of students who are younger than 12 and not yet able to get a vaccine. In addition, the district typically has a steady stream of immigrant families, but border restrictions have led to fewer newcomer students, he said.
Besides the enrollment drop, confusion over independent study and strict guidance requiring students with any COVID symptoms to stay home has led to an uptick in absences, and average daily attendance has gone down by about 4%, he said.
West Contra Costa is far from the only California district to experience such an enrollment drop. San Francisco Unified, which enrolled about 60,000 students in the 2018-19 school year, has lost about 3,500 students during the pandemic, The San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday. The district estimates a loss of about $35 million in state funding next year.
Los Angeles Unified, the largest school district in the state, lost more than 27,000 students — about 6% of its enrollment — since the 2020-21 school year, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Oakland Unified’s census-day enrollment count for the 2018-19 school year was 36,524. As of Oct. 5, the district projected enrollment of 34,378, Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said at a school board meeting Wednesday. Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jorge Aguilar also has expressed concern about the impact of his district’s enrollment loss on its ongoing structural deficit.
West Contra Costa Unified is looking to state leaders to figure out a way to avoid devastating budget cuts in the 2022-23 school year.
“While under the current statute we would have to cut, the reality is the state has more money, and more money is supposed to come to education than before,” Wold said. “Rational minds should be able to come up with a solution, especially if it’s hitting every district.”
Wold recommends that average daily attendance be taken out of the equation for districts’ baseline state funding.