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Updated: Mar 20, 2018

Births, deaths, income, and other demographic factors , all of which illustrate the changing structure of human populations, impact public school enrollment. Enrollment projections are largerly based on demographics.

For perspective, In 1960, about 34M pupils were enrolled in public schools in the US. Following a decline in the 1970s and early 1980s, enrollment began rising in the latter part of the 1980s . By 1990 about 41M were enrolled. About 5M of the 41M were enrolled in California. By 2020 about 51M are projected to be enrolled. About 6.5M of those 51M will be enrolled in California. You can compare projected growth between now and 2024 by state on the map below.

Census and demographic data reveal that one out of every eight students currently enrolled in public schools in the US are enrolled in California public schools. The same ratio is projected through 2024. California public schools are projected to grow by 7.5%, about 2% more than the US overall growth. But growth is concentrated in certain areas based on demographic factors.

While enrollment has increased by over 21% in California since 1990 (from 4,950,474 to the current 6,314,700), reaching its peak with 6,322,141 enrolled in 2004, enrollment in Los Angeles County schools has increased just 5% (from 1,465,597 to the current 1,539,260), reaching its peak with 1,742,873 enrolled in 2005. And between now and 2024, graduates in Los Angeles County are expected to decline by around 2,700 students. Los Angeles County and Orange County are projected to experience the steepest decline, respectively, among the 28 counties Statewide projected to decline. On the other end of the spectrum, 30 counties are projected to increase enrollment over the next ten years, led by Riverside (26,000 students), San Diego (over 23,000 students), and Kern (over 21,000 students) counties.

In my district, Duarte Unified, during the same twenty-year period, enrollment decreased by slightly more than 15% (from 4,500 range to the current 3,800 range), reaching its peak with about 4,500 enrolled in 2002. To lend some perspective to this data, I compared it to four of our neighboring districts over the same twenty-year period. Azusa decreased 20% (from 11,636 to 9,277), reaching its peak with 12,258 enrolled in 2002. Monrovia increased 3.3% (from 5,712 to 5,903), reaching its peak with 6,752 enrolled in 1999. Arcadia increased 10.6% (from 8,660 to 9,582), reaching its peak with 10,169 enrolled in 2005. Glendora increased 13.8% (from 6,797 to 7,793), reaching its peak with 8,048 enrolled in 2001 (Note: Glendora participates in California’s School District of Choice program. Their enrollment has increased by over 700 students since their recent conversion even though Choice schools may not accept more than 10% of another district’s students).

From each district’s peak enrollment, Azusa has experienced the most precipitous decrease, declining 24%. Duarte has experienced a decline of 17.4%. Monrovia has experienced a decline of 12.6%. Arcadia has experienced a decline of 5.8%. Glendora has experienced a decline of 3.2%. With the exception of upwardly trending Glendora, which has experienced a 10% increase since it’s 20-year historic low of 7,026 in 2009, all four districts are currently trending downward.

In Duarte, looking first at births, during 1989, there were 601 actual births. Five years later there were 553 actual births. Five years later there were 463 actual births. In 2012, the most recent available date, there were 352 actual births. During a five-year period in the 1990s (‘95-‘99) actual births in Duarte totaled 2,432. Based on the most current five-year period (2008-2012) availiable, actual births totaled 1,776. That’s a 27% decline (656 fewer births). Counterintuitively, the current population of 21,724 represents an increase of 1.1% since 2000 (for comparison, Arcadia has increased its population by 8.5%; Azusa 7%; Glendora 3.4%; Monrovia 0.5%). The increased population in Duarte is due to a larger population of senior citizens. Duarte has almost as many senior citizens over 80 (601) as children under five (646).

Also counterintuitively, the only upwardly trending district, Glendora, has the second oldest median age, 40.2; Arcadia, the city with the largest population growth, is the oldest with a median age of 43.1 years old (the California median age is 32.1; Duarte is 39.9, Monrovia 37.9, and Azusa only 29.3). The city of Bradbury’s median age is 49. Bradbury has increased its population by 26% since 2000 (from around 800 to around 1,070) and is served by the Duarte Unified School District.

In order to respond to the challenges of declining enrollment, school districts and the communities they serve must act on different spatial levels and in different forms. The complex nature of demographic processes means that responses are implemented in a number of different policy areas, from educational, social, and economic policy to infrastructural interventions. The interdisciplinary character and the varying impact of demographic change make it clear that policy interventions are critical, and timing is everything.

My next blog will address what actions and policy interventions are undertaken by declining enrollment districts.

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