Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit and closed many schools, school districts have been floating in money as the statewide funding average exceeded $20,000 per student from all sources. The traditional enrollment-based formula has been suspended, allowing districts to receive funding based upon prior numbers.
What officials fear and are starting to shout about is a return to the previous enrollment-based method. They are warning of heavy budget cuts because enrollment has dropped, substantially in many districts.
The combination of slowing birth rates (California’s rate now is below the replacement rate for families) coupled with the flight to private schools, the flight from the state and the home school option has statewide enrollment plummeting.
Howard Sullins of the San Bernadino city district, reported that the district lost 2,000 students over the last two years, about eight times the normal average.
Reporter Joe Hong’s story noted, “In 2018-19, California schools statewide lost about 23,000 students. Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, public school enrollment in California dropped by nearly seven times that figure, with more than 160,000 students dropping out.”
In Pleasanton, pre-pandemic enrollment was around 14,800. The snapshot count at the beginning of the second semester on Jan. 12 showed 14,023, according to district spokesman Patrick Gannon. That drop of around 800 students could mean millions in budget cuts to bring it into balance as is required by state law. Unlike the federal government, local and state governments cannot print money.
Educrats are moaning about the impact on students should substantial staff cuts be necessary to bring budgets into balance. There’s no question that students, particularly those in lower socio-economic levels and with black and brown skin, have suffered far more than their Asian and White counterparts. They already were already falling short of proficiency standards for math and reading and it’s only gotten worse.
You might ask, given the sharply declining enrollment, what the districts did with the staff who had fewer if any students to teach. If the district was stuck in distance learning, thanks primarily to aggressive teachers’ unions wanting concessions that had little or nothing to do with classrooms, the gap just widened. Student-focused districts such as Pleasanton brought struggling students back onto campus in small groups so they could receive more intensive instruction.
The key question for district leaders is what they’re going to do with the over-staffed districts. In San Bernadino, for instance, 2,000 students would mean about 66 teachers with nothing to do based on a 30-to-1 staffing ratio. Certainly, some could be reassigned to intensive tutoring programs to give students who are behind a chance to move to grade-level in reading and math.
Statistically, if a student is not reading a grade-level after the third grade, the chances of them catching up and doing anything besides floundering in school is almost nil.
So, cut the crybaby act and produce plans for real student performance improvement that are timely and measurable. The state has the money to invest if there’s a viable new plan instead of continued the failed measures of the past.