Elementary Enrollment Down; High School Enrollment Up

For the first time in a quarter of a century, local elementary schools have experienced a significant enrollment loss. This fall’s official enrollment report revealed 1,600 fewer K-5 students on teachers’ roll sheets in Long Beach schools. After decades of steady enrollment increases, total enrollment in the Long Beach Unified School District has dropped below last fall’s 97,037 students. After one month of school, enrollment in California’s third largest school district fell to 95,483--down 1,554 students--1.6 percent below the same time last year. Official enrollment figures are reported to the state every October. Elementary school enrollment here decreased 1,646 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Middle schools lost only 26 students in sixth through eighth grades. Charter schools and special schools lost 374 students. In contrast, high school enrollment increased by 492 students in ninth through twelfth grades. The enrollment downturn means a loss of approximately $7 million in revenue. The state pays local school districts $4,807 per student. With enrollment down in elementary schools and flat at middle schools, it appears that the past decade’s bulge in elementary school enrollment has now moved up into high schools. High schools here remain among the largest in the state. Several are at or near their capacity. As a result of lower total enrollment, the Long Beach Unified School District has alleviated overcrowding in elementary schools and should be able to accommodate all students in the years immediately ahead. Many elementary schools for the first time have been able to reduce class size in fourth and fifth grade. If enrollment remains at or near the present level, school bonds from Measure A, approved by local voters in 1999, will allow enough schools and classrooms to be built to further reduce overcrowding and busing. The bonds are also being used to upgrade many existing older schools that will be modernized during this decade. The recent halt to more than two decades of steady enrollment growth is not unique to Long Beach. In fact, many school districts in California have reported significant enrollment declines. Contributing to the school enrollment change are the current state budget crisis, slow job recovery, and young families with children being priced out by the booming Southern California housing market. Some are buying more affordable homes elsewhere. The largest Long Beach one-year enrollment decrease this fall occurred in first grade, with 439 fewer six year olds enrolling than last year. Kindergartens reported the smallest total enrollment in elementary schools--513 students below first grade enrollment. Until elementary enrollment bottoms out, districtwide enrollment is expected to continue to decrease. Birthrates in local hospitals are usually a reliable predictor of what kindergarten enrollments will look like five years later when those children enter school. However, changes in employment, housing and migration into or out of the state can change that picture.