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Public schools in the Bay Area face declining enrollments

By Issac Ang

Feb. 16, 2022

Ellie Kim Art

The aversion to online learning, coupled with the high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, has fueled a decline in public school enrollments in recent years. While the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic spurred debates on reopening schools to in person instruction, the current crisis in public K-12 education could result in permanent school closures.

The Bay Area has experienced declining public school enrollments ever since 2016, the Marin Independent Journal states. The notoriously high living costs and limited housing have caused families to move out of the metropolis in large numbers. This, along with a declining birth rate and reduced immigration nationwide, leads to fewer students. Eight out of nine counties in the Bay Area expect to lose public school students within the next decade; Santa Clara County will lose the fifth most in California.

Some student groups are hit harder than others. According to a report by the Public Policy Institute, kindergarten and pre-K are most affected by the pandemic. Parents worry that long hours of video instruction are not suitable for their young children. They also fear that even in person, social distancing and mask-wearing may negatively impact their child’s social development. Minority and low-income enrollment has also decreased substantially. As per the report, California schools had 20% fewer Black kindergartners, 11% fewer Latino and 3% fewer Asian students from 2020 to 2021; these ratios are held across higher grades but with smaller declines. Low-income enrollment declined 3.2%, compared to 1.7% for high income students. At the school, several extracurriculars are lacking students due to such shortages.

“This issue is very concerning, as almost all school districts in Santa Clara County are experiencing some degree of declining enrollment. Unfortunately, until an economic balance is restored, I do see this issue persisting,” John Mackey, Special Education Department and former Board President of Oak Grove School District, said.

The pandemic has largely been responsible for recent declines.

In Marin County, enrollment dropped by 5% last year, compared to 1% in previous years. Switching between online and in-person learning, students, teachers and administrators face growing confusion and mounting operational costs. Furthermore, families that lost jobs in the pandemic have moved out of the Bay Area in search of more affordable housing, Ed Source reports.

For some schools, lack of funding and failure to meet the quota for classes have forced them to shut down entirely. According to the Marin Independent Journal, in the next three years, eight schools could close in Hayward Unified School District. Since the start of the pandemic, Cupertino Union School District has already closed two: Regnart and Meyerholz Elementary Schools.

Tanking enrollment is not limited to the Bay Area—public schools in other regions of California and the U.S. also face challenges. Statewide, enrollment dropped by 3%, mostly concentrated in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. According to Ed Source, there has been a decadelong enrollment decline in California. Across the nation, the pandemic has shut down schools already struggling with enrollment, but whether the pandemic’s impacts will persist is highly debated.

Online learning and school closures have accelerated the recent surge in private and homeschooling, as parents are prompted to rethink what is the most optimal and safe learning environment for their children. Some parents chose to enroll their children in private schools as they offered in-person options prior to its widespread resumption among public schools. Private school enrollment increased by 4% from 2020 to 2021, the California Department of Education reveals. Others who cannot afford private school tuition chose to homeschool their children. EdSource reports that almost 35,000 California families filed an affidavit—a legal statement—to switch to homeschooling for the 2020-2021 school year, compared to 22,000 in the previous year. While student rates decline in public schools, other sources of learning witness boosts in enrollment as parents seek to continue educating their children.

“Although the school has lost around 200 students in the past two years, the school can sustain this loss; it will not shut down, unlike some of the other schools in the Bay Area. This is because many elementary and middle schools feed into the school, and it can be the parents’ choice to have fewer children. However, I would not draw serious conclusions until we have more data,” Principal Peter Park said.


About the Contributors

Issac Ang

Staff Writer

Isaac Ang is a junior at Leland High School and staff writer for the Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys reading, playing ping pong, and experiencing nature. He is an avid rock climber. His academic interests include math, science, and coding.

Ellie Kim


Kim is currently a junior at Leland High School and is an artist for The Charger Account. Her hobbies include reading, drawing, and spending time with friends.

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