Big Sacramento-area school districts saw enrollment fall in COVID. Will they recover?

The four largest school districts in the Sacramento region collectively lost about 3,250 students from the last school year to the current one, nearly matching enrollment losses from the first year of the pandemic, according to district financial reports. Excluding charter schools, Sacramento City Unified, San Juan Unified, Elk Grove Unified and Twin Rivers Unified each saw enrollment declines between 1.6% and 2.5% from 2020-21 to 2021-22 — much bigger year-to-year losses than seen before the pandemic. About half of the region’s public K-12 students attend one of those districts. The enrollment figures come from first interim financial reports mandated by the state and presented to the school boards at each of the four districts in December. The numbers may change, though likely not by much, as more data comes in.

While school funding is complicated, more students typically means more state revenue for school districts. When enrollment declines, districts are often forced to lay off teachers and sometimes even close schools. The pandemic is likely to blame for some of the enrollment declines. Some parents frustrated over school lockdowns — and worried about future lockdowns — have moved their children to private school or delayed the start of kindergarten. Many private schools held in-person classes more often during the pandemic than public schools.

The decline, though, is also an acceleration of a standing trend. Lower birthrates, families moving to Placer and El Dorado counties and the aging of residents in the region’s first-line suburbs have pushed enrollment lower for years at San Juan, Twin Rivers and Sacramento City Unified. (Elk Grove Unified had continued to add students — at least until recently.)

“San Juan Unified has been paying close attention to enrollment trends across the district,” said Raj Rai, spokesperson for the district, in an email. “Recently, we have seen declining enrollment in the central and eastern parts of the district while seeing growth in the western side, the Arden Arcade area. “With more than half of California school districts experiencing declining enrollment, the trend is not unique to San Juan Unified or surrounding districts,” she added. “With overall declining birth rates and population shifts as residents move (both in and out of state), growth trends are impacted. Built-out districts without significant new housing developments such as San Juan Unified have historically seen some declines in enrollment.” Growth in Placer County

Meanwhile, the next four largest school districts in the region — Folsom Cordova, Natomas, Rocklin and Roseville Elementary — saw enrollment rebound during the current year. Collectively, those districts added about 1,350 students from 2020-21 to 2021-22, an enrollment increase of about 2.6%. Enrollment at Natomas Unified has surpassed pre-pandemic levels. Enrollment at Folsom Cordova, Rocklin Unified and Roseville City Elementary still lags pre-pandemic levels. Each of those four districts managed to reopen schools for in-person instruction during the pandemic faster than most of their larger counterparts. For example, Folsom Cordova partially re-opened for in-person instruction at many of its elementary schools in mid-November. After a winter surge, it re-opened again in mid-March. The district’s enrollment increased by about 670 students, or 3.4%, from 2020-21 to 2021-22. Schools in Roseville and Rocklin reopened even earlier, and stayed open throughout more of the pandemic. That said, these districts have been growing for years, along with their surrounding communities.

In its financial report, San Juan Unified predicts that enrollment will stabilize in coming years, neither growing nor shrinking. Elk Grove sees a rebound Elk Grove Unified is projecting a sharp rebound, saying it will add more than 1,000 students next school year. District officials provided the projection in a December financial report to state education officials, saying classroom numbers should bounce back.

“Due to the recent pandemic our enrollment is lower than it normally would be. We anticipate our enrollment to return to pre-pandemic levels,” district officials said in the December report. Much of that new enrollment is expected to come with the July opening of Miwok Village Elementary School at Poppy Ridge and Lousada drives south of Whitelock Parkway in Elk Grove’s growing southeast end. District officials project as many as 875 students will be enrolled for the upcoming academic year at the new year-round K-6 campus. Twin Rivers Unified officials predict enrollment declines next year, with the district losing another 250 more students. Sacramento City Unified projects that enrollment declines will continue, but at a slower pace. Natomas Unified is predicting slight enrollment declines over the next two years. Rocklin Unified is predicting continued growth, as is Roseville City Elementary.

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