The Pandemic: An Accelerant to Declining Enrollment

By Gary Jones, EH&A Associate (Special Projects)


California Exodus! People Leaving California! Much has been written and documented about families moving out of California since the beginning of the pandemic. Often these articles and reports mention the “yes-but.” Yes, families are moving out of some areas in California, but many families are relocating within the state or moving to California from other states and countries.

In Who’s Leaving California—and Who’s Moving In?  the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) notes that the outward migration is not as significant as the fact that fewer people are moving to California.

I have been hearing a kind of revisionist history, even romanticism, about how much better it was before the effects of the pandemic took ahold of our schools.

A short article by EdSource, Big drop during pandemic…  speaks to the effects of the pandemic on enrollment. More importantly, within the article is a mapping tool that illustrates a pre-pandemic look at what was happening by 2018 and 2019. Generally, prior to the pandemic, the coastal counties had established significant enrollment declines and the valleys and foothills enrollment increases.

Published in February of 2020, a PPIC article, Declining Enrollment in California…  was a pre-pandemic, clarion call for school leaders to focus on future challenges caused by declining enrollment. I know the article well and will never forget its timing.

In February of 2020, I had just started consulting with a school district that desperately needed to consolidate multiple school sites, a necessity previous boards had mostly avoided for more than ten years. Over these ten years, Davis Demographics had accurately projected the declines and urged the district to address the issue.

Additionally, capacity utilization data identified sites that were vastly under enrolled. Student safety, student success, program offerings, and school site repair cost data all indicated that specific schools should be consolidated with others. The board needed to act to prevent fiscal distress and improve their services to students.

Anyone reading this article knows, when school leaders avoid making vital decisions, students are negatively affected, and this negative effect can last for years.

School consolidations are incredibly time-consuming for school leaders and the public relations piece can be disheartening. If you are a school leader who knows declining enrollment is a critical issue for your school district, please email me (gary@ehanda.com) and we can arrange a time to talk or call EH&A at 760-602-9352.