LAUSD Enrollment: The Story Behind the Story

tracy
19 min readApr 26, 2022
Selma (formerly Fremont Grammar) 1905 — Hollywood. LAPL Photo Collection

As a LAUSD parent for a dozen years, I had some background knowledge of declining enrollment. I got involved in a real way when there was a threat to a nearby school. Selma Elementary was an anchor to the neighborhood, educating students since 1905 including Marilyn Monroe and Carol Burnett who were former students. But by the spring of 2019, Selma’s enrollment numbers dropped to a precarious level and its future was in doubt. I felt the need to do something to help. I spoke with the school administration and Selma’s parents who were brainstorming ways to bring in students. I jumped in.

It was a hot week and I was covered in sunscreen as I walked down Hollywood Boulevard. With cheerful flyers in my hand, I went into restaurants, small retail shops, hotels, auto dealer and repair shops along with all the other local businesses. I also went to preschools, both high-end and modest, and spoke to directors about the wonderful programs offered, including swim lessons at the YMCA across the street from Selma. Selma was a gem of a school and I wanted to drum up more students.

Unfortunately, LAUSD’s Local District West did not share our enthusiasm. Instead of promoting Selma, Local District leaders took the short cut and announced the school would close in 2021. The neighborhood school that served legions of students for 116 years would be handed over to the charter middle school that co-located a few years earlier.

Since LAUSD does not close schools often, I was in a unique position as an advocate for Selma and a witness to its closing in real time. This personal background, along with the dire headlines of late, made me want to research district numbers. Having read several recent articles, I believe there is a down-in-the-weeds-truth, that is often missed behind general comments about immigration, birth rate and cost of living. Whether you are a parent of LAUSD students or are passionate about public education, it is better to understand the story behind the who, what, where and when, so we can then make more thoughtful decisions about what we want for the future of our schools.

Since at least 1961, when it became a unified district, LAUSD has maintained a top-down management approach and in the last twenty years, district leaders made choices that have rippled onto our homes today. Now as families and teachers stand at a fork in the road, we need to consider something important. For the last six decades, LAUSD families have been told:

· We must have large class sizes because we don’t have enough space

· We must have large class sizes because we don’t have enough money

· We must have large class sizes because we don’t have enough teachers

This theme of large class sizes is hard to miss. It is also hard on students, teachers, administrators, and families. For sixty years, LA Unified families have been told a lot of things. A lot of it discouraging like overcrowded class sizes. But now we are in different place, there has been a new response to LAUSD thanks to Parents Supporting Teachers (PST).

Just before the January 2019 UTLA teachers’ strike, the largest parent led education advocacy group in Los Angeles was launched. PST participants (28,000 members) have exhibited real knowledge, hunger, and courage to help shape our neighborhood schools. These members supported each other and schools during the teacher’s strike and during this first pandemic in one hundred years. PST’s leadership has exhibited an ability to be nimble and skilled which was very clear when Omicron landed in Los Angeles in early December 2021. LAUSD administrators and board members broke for their winter break while families watched the Covid numbers rise. As the variant spread with a vengeance, it was PST that led the charge for all students to be tested before returning from winter break. It was no small feat and while various people in district leadership took victory laps on testing students and staff before the launch of winter semester, none of it would have happened if not for the PST community gathering their forces. In the sixty years of LAUSD’s history there has never been this effective option to build policy from the ground-up.

Thus, before anyone in leadership at LAUSD once again takes a “Top-Down” approach and tells parents what The District wants to do with our campuses and schools during our current enrollment numbers, parents need to ask:

· What is story behind our enrollment?

· What is the ideal teacher-student ratio of a classroom?

· What is our ideal classroom capacity without the bungalows?

· What is our school site only budget?

· Is opening any school including charters sensible in our current enrollment climate?

I have gathered ten points that I believe help tell the story behind the story of our enrollment numbers plus offer up some other questions that I hope will help us figure out what we want for our child’s school, our district, and the future of our neighborhoods.

#1: This is year 14 of a national population growth decrease.

The overriding fact is that people aren’t having many children. This recent report (3/24/22) from the Washington Post is one of many articles that explain what is going on with the USA population.

“Low fertility rates, which have persisted since the end of the Great Recession, and the continuing demographic shift toward an older population also combined to create the smallest population increase in 100 years.”

Here we are in 2022 at the lowest population increase in the last 100 years. Let that sink in.

#2: In the 1980s, the USA had a dip in population and in 1990s it rose (in part) due to immigration

Immigration is critical to offset the USA downward cycles and was an influence in the last half of the 1990s. From the Brookings Institute 12/21

“Growth rose to levels approaching 2% during the prosperous post-World War II “baby boom” years of the 1950s and 1960s. And after a lull in the 1970s and 1980s, population growth rose again in the 1990s due to rising immigration and millennial generation births.”

This graph is population growth percentage change year to year (From Brookings Institute)

#3: Population trends in counties can vary during a national trend. When we drill down on education, we see public school enrollment in Los Angeles County reflect the same peaks and valleys of the population trend in the USA

Los Angeles County is big in size and numbers, I wondered what was the pattern of growth in public school enrollment in the whole county?

This graph displays the county’s public-school enrollment (source: California Department of Education).

Looking at the graph, we see the same theme as the national trend: Lower population in the 1980s, increased population in the 1990s, followed by a downward trend in early 2000s.

#4: When we take LAUSD enrollment and compare it to the rest of LA County public school enrollment, we see the downward turn in 2003.

This graph is also based on statistics from California Department of Education and shows LAUSD against the rest of the county’s public-school enrollment.

The graph tracks all the public-school students in LA County which means Long Beach, Burbank, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica (etc.) public-school districts. You will note that LAUSD matches the other county public students with no extra big dip of LAUSD students. LAUSD lines up with the same peaks and valleys of the rest of the school districts and the downward trend that starts in 2003. This belies those who claim “LAUSD is so terrible they are leaving the district.” That claim does not match the facts. A simpler explanation might be, are people having less children in LA? Is it too expensive to house and raise a child in LA?

A question also worth asking; what did LAUSD leaders know about enrollment and when did they know it?

#5: LAUSD was aware of the decline in enrollment by 2003 and had been tracking its arrival. LAUSD also understood the lack of affordable housing as a factor for decline.

In April 2006, a symposium focused on population trends in Los Angeles took place. It was organized by the Population Association of America. Valerie Edwards, Chief Enrollment Analysis Coordinator and Mary Prichard, Senior Boundary Coordinator for LAUSD, made a presentation explaining the lack of school age children that began in 2003. The paper can be found here:

Quoting the paper:

“Demographic planners at LAUSD had been expecting to see some decline in LAUSD enrollment, because the number of children being born in LA County — — the children who would, five years later, become LAUSD’s next kindergarten cohorts — had been dropping since 1990. What has been observed, however, is that the decline seems to be coming later, and more steeply, then would have been expected if it were being driven by the decreasing number of births alone.”

These two paragraphs are also important:

“One possible reason for the divergence in direction between LAUSD’s student enrollment decline and the population growth being observed in the greater Los Angeles region may be that the growth being observed is not being fueled by increases in households with school-aged children who would be candidates for attending LAUSD, but rather by increases in households with fewer or no children. These households may be better positioned to adapt to a rapidly changing housing market, where the median housing price in California escalated from $211,500 in 2000 to $498,800 in 2005 (3) and has been projected to increase to $523,150 by the end of 2005 and another 10% to $575,500 in 2006 (6). A similar trend has impacted California’s rental market as well.

Of particular importance to the LAUSD is the decline of affordable housing within LAUSD’s boundaries. Communities such as Jefferson Park and North Hollywood are two examples of areas that are becoming unaffordable for middle- and lower-income residents, putting home ownership and rental opportunities out of the reach of the households that would have historically been able to afford them. In North Hollywood, median household income was $33,215 in 2000 but the median housing price for a single family detached home outpaced household income and currently stands at $643,044, a price that would require an annual family income of $147,826 to afford (6). Los Angeles’ rental market has also seen a steep rise in prices. Since 2001, median rents for 1-bedroom units have increased 42.5%, and now stand at $945 within the Los Angeles- Long Beach Metropolitan Area (10).”

There it is, plain and simple. Cost of Housing. In 2006, LAUSD and their demographers knew there was a downward turn since 2003 and that the cost of living was impacting communities and the enrollment. It is also worth noting that the report points out the rise in rentals in 2006 and housing which of course pales to real estate now in 2022. As reported at Realtor.com:

In February 2022, the median listing home price in North Hollywood, CA was $889.5K, trending up 11.3% year-over-year. The median listing home price per square foot was $586. The median home sold price was $805K.

Continuing the discussion of what LAUSD knew about the downward trend in enrollment, we see that another paper was presented at the 2006 symposium: “Three Demographic Waves and the Transformation of the Los Angeles Region, 1970–2000,” by John Pitkin (President of Analysis and Forecasting, Inc. Cambridge, MA, and Senior Research Associate with the Population Dynamics Research Group in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development of the University of Southern California). From the conclusion of this paper:

“The emergence of substantial domestic out-migration of the foreign-born population was undoubtedly spurred by temporary economic conditions (the 1991–1994 regional recession), but its continuation in the latter half of the 1990s apparently resulted from a decline in the economic opportunities for immigrants in Los Angeles relative to other regions of the U.S. This decline and the out-migration of the foreign-born population are likely to continue in the future.”

So, in 2006, LAUSD was well informed that the population and enrollment would be down for many years as predicted by their own researchers.

#6 The prediction by LAUSD demographers in 1997 was that enrollment would peak between 2000–2005 and then decline.

While everyone now in 2022 is running around “Henny Penny, the sky is falling,’ wondering how dear lord did low enrollment land on our shores? The truth was that this low enrollment was exactly as predicted by demographers, both in and outside LAUSD, albeit a fact hidden in plain sight.

The average parent does not watch LAUSD Board meetings and even fewer parents watch Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) meetings. I suppose I am an odd parent because I do watch Board Meetings and find some BOC Meetings interesting. Luckily as I was researching the enrollment, someone on PST commented that they watched the Feb. 24, 2022, BOC meeting and recommended others do the same. When a friend sent me the agenda and the link for the meeting, I decided to give it a watch.

At 1:25:25 (Item 10) Vincent Maffei, LAUSD Director of Master Planning and Demographics, presented data related to enrollment from 1964–2021, some of the slides from that presentation will be shared going forward. In his presentation, Mr. Maffei explained that the largest kinder class was in 1996 and this peak of students would graduate high school in 2008. He also explained that demographers knew that the LAUSD enrollment would start to decline sometime between 2000–2005.

So, it appears we need to congratulate LAUSD demographers who were correct, because the downward turn arrived in 2003, as predicted. The question is, was this information shared with the public and media in a meaningful way?

#7: What is going on with independent charter enrollments?

Let’s now talk about the enrollment of students in Independent Charter schools.

In 2022, we know from the January report to the LAUSD Board by the Charter School Division, that Independent Charters are not meeting their growth target.

“Forty (40) of the 226 schools (17.7%) either met or exceeded their enrollment targets, while the remaining 186 (82.3%) did not. This enrollment trend appears to be consistent with both small and large charter operators.”

A recent LAIST article on district enrollment by Kyle Stokes (3/10/22) matches the report from Charter School Division that Charters are not meeting their goals and have been flatlining for several years.

In his article, Stokes’ separates the population: LAUSD and Affiliated charters have 430,322 while Independent Charters have 112,358.

The LAIST article separating the enrollment is interesting. For sure the number 430,000 is eye catching and when I see that number kicked around, the old newspaper adage, ‘If it bleeds it leads’ rings true. Because let’s face it, the number that is often suggested as the LAUSD enrollment is around 600,000 and to suddenly adjust in 2022 to an enrollment drop of 170,000 students is a big ‘bleed’.

So, what is going on?

Well, first of all, LAUSD’s own Fingertip Facts 2021–2022 states an enrollment total of 574,570. But in a smaller font we see the number includes all the charter schools for which LAUSD has granted a charter.

Then there is the media. A simple google search will find plenty of news outlets like KABC or CNN or NBC or KPCC who repeat the 600,000 enrollment number.

But if we go to the LAUSD CFO Final Budget 2021–2022 Report we see the numbers broken down even more detailed than the LAIST article.

When I mentioned to a fellow LAUSD parent what LAUSD knew back in the mid 1990s about future enrollment and yet did not do a full campaign of explanation, or correct media, my friend who is admittedly jaundiced said, “It’s not just that LAUSD lied about the cause of the headcount arguably to make its own schools & teachers look weak. They unrelentingly spoke out of both sides of their mouths in reiterating that ‘We are the second largest district of 600,000 kids’ to make themselves puffed-up and powerful, even as those numbers kept softening.”

She of course has a point: LAUSD wants to appear bigger than it is while having plausible deniability because they do tell the public they are including charters (small print).

LAUSD can continue to use the 562,000 number but it is misleading since LAUSD is not educationally or fiscally responsible for the students attending the independent charters.

I would also suggest to my friends in the media to confirm the accuracy of LAUSD’s claims and correct when necessary.

#8: What is the influence of independent charters in LAUSD enrollment?

LAUSD Facilities Division Master Planning & Demographics presentation 2/24/22

The total number of students available for LAUSD and Independent Charters is decreasing over time, as shown by Stokes’ graph and the graph (above) presented by LAUSD demographers at the BOC meeting on 2/24/22. (Note that the graph also includes the students enrolled in all private schools located in LAUSD territory.)

Independent charters opened with force in 2003 and exploded during the next decade. Such expansion took advantage of dissatisfaction due to overcrowded classrooms and lack of resources and other issues written over and over again by LA Times for two decades.

However, enrollment in Independent Charters has flatlined for the last five years and even decreased (in some instances) at the same time the number of independent charter schools has increased.

This suggests charters are cannibalizing charters.

Given the total number of students in LAUSD territory which include independent charters is decreasing, the charter school influence is not significant to the declining enrollment of LAUSD.

However, arguably the push to open these public funded, effectively private managed schools in the face of declining enrollment shows a lack of vision for the greater number of public funded, public managed neighborhood schools.

When the Independent charter schools were making a big push in Los Angeles, did anyone in LAUSD leadership meet with our 24 legislators to discuss ways to mitigate this run on the LAUSD market?

#9: What is going on with private schools?

When using data from California Department of Education, we see that enrollment of private schools in the state has been going down since 2001. Graphing this data shows a clear display of the decrease.

LAUSD demographers have access to private school enrollment in LAUSD’s territory and have included it in a graph presented to the BOC. They have also plotted that data alone and it presents a steeper decline in private school enrollment:

LAUSD Facilities Division Master Planning & Demographics presentation 2/24/22

As explained by LAUSD Demographer Mr. Maffei at the February BOC meeting, there is a belief that a declining enrollment in public schools means there must be an uptick in private enrollment.

I know I have heard people throw out in a casual manner, “Everyone is leaving LAUSD for private schools.” Nope.

As Mr. Maffei explained, this is not accurate. In the 1980s LAUSD grew enrollment, while private school enrollment declined. In the 1990s, the growth pattern of private and LAUSD were the same. However, market share changed. Market share is the percentage of private school enrollment compared with public & private in LAUSD. In 1980, the private school market share was over 16 percent. But, the share has been declining for 30 years. Private school share is now around 12 percent. There were 565 private schools within LAUSD area in 2001 and now there is 362 private schools.

#10: LAUSD Classrooms

Classroom size has been an issue for LAUSD for over 50 years.

Let’s go back to the early 1960s. A state law was drafted in 1964 (and then updated). The law mandated penalties if a school district exceeded the pupil-teacher ratio.

This law was supposed to help California public students from overcrowded classrooms. It sounds good. However, in 1973 the Los Angeles Times reported LAUSD had been penalized six years in a row, (costing millions of dollars), for exceeding limits on class size. (McCurdy, Jack. “Class — Size Violations Cost Schools Millions” Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1973)

In 1973, the LAUSD population was 617,000 and it was year four of a decline in enrollment. But it was year six of overcrowded classes. Why are the classes stuffed with students?

The decline hit an end in 1975 at 608,000 enrollment thanks in part to the immigration of South Vietnamese families at the end of the Vietnam War. (McCurdy, Jack. “Enrollment in LA Schools UP; 6-year dip ends) Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1975,

Then between 1980 and 2000 LA Unified enrollment jumped to 700,000k.

In the 1990s when large influxes of immigrants arrived, and their children enrolled in LAUSD, more bungalows were installed across the district. But still classrooms in many schools were overcrowded.

LA Times September 27, 1992

At that same time, a state-wide bond “Class Size Reduction Kindergarten — University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 1998” was passed by the public (Prop1A) in 1998.

Thus began a building spree in LAUSD. Between 1997–2017, 131 new campuses were built and 65 campuses were expanded, per the LA Times, it was the largest effort in the nation.

But the fact is that LAUSD demographers predicted an enrollment peak in 2003 followed by a continuous drop. In that landscape, LAUSD used bond money to build new campuses. Now looking back, shouldn’t the campuses that needed renovation been tackled first and perhaps we should have waited a bit to see how the declining demographics shook out? And why are we still authorizing new charter schools?

We see arguably an over build of new schools by The District at the same time neighborhood schools are desperate for improvements. While it may be a cynical eye, I must ask, was this a deliberate over build? Was it done to undermine whole areas of neighborhood schools? By the way, some of these new buildings were handed over to independent charters. What was the long-term calculation for our district leaders to make these choices?

And now, what are our leaders doing and saying about class sizes for our current students and future classes? Based on what we have seen, is top-down management the best narrators for what we want? Let’s look at the fact roundup:

LAUSD was dependent on immigration for an uptick in population.

LAUSD knew there would be a downward turn in enrollment between 2000–2005 which did materialize in 2003.

LAUSD knew that the cost of living in Los Angeles was one of the factors for the downward turn.

LAUSD Demographers knew that there was no reliance on large swaths of immigrants to increase the enrollment anytime soon.

LAUSD spent a lot of bond money building new construction while not choosing renovation first, nor choosing to remove the aged portable classrooms after construction was finished.

In 2022 we must look at the actions by those in power at LAUSD for the last twenty years and ask was it sensible?

This is what happens in a Top-Down management strategy.

LAUSD Superintendents and upper-level officers have relied on a Top-Down management strategy since The District’s unification in 1961. Which means families, school administrators and staff are treated like props. They get told what the newest policies will be, rather than participating as authentic collaborators and co-visionaries. The Top-Down management style is short on transparency, has a narrow vision, often less informed and creates low morale.

In 2022, we who care about our public education, must demand a different approach.

#10: What do we want for our schools?

LAUSD Facilities Division Master Planning & Demographics presentation 2/24/22

In 2022, there are 471 elementary, 84 middle, 100 high, 39 span & 11 special ed schools. Plus 53 continuation schools.

We need to ask serious questions before anyone in leadership at LAUSD tells families ‘The plan’ about our schools.

· What can we do to lower the teacher student ratio?

· At the Nov. 16 LAUSD Board MTG- Human resources presentation it was said there were 694 teacher vacancies. Has the number gone up or down since November 2021?

· How does the retention of LAUSD teachers compare with other districts?

· Magnet and dual language programs have shown strong enrollments, how can we support them with more staff?

· How much money is being spent to promote neighborhood schools?

· As of 2022, we have 6,633 portable classrooms, why?

· How are we bringing in more trees and grass yards?

· How are we expanding community schools with wraparound services?

· Is shutting down special ed schools the right move?

· What are the expenditures of every school in every category each year?

· What are we doing to finally get fully funded special education from the federal government?

· How are we engaging our 24 (8 state senators, 16 assembly members) legislators to write legislation that unabashedly supports our neighborhood schools?

· Why are we still authorizing new charter schools?

· Is it time for charters to co-locate on charters?

· How much money has been paid to privatizer management groups to make presentations to LAUSD Board members?

· How much money has been paid to these groups for other work?

· Why are administrators at local district offices unresponsive to parents?

· Why hasn’t LAUSD launched a full-throated campaign steering parents to visit their neighborhood school and away from Great Schools website that has worsened segregation?

I started my journey on the story of LAUSD enrollment numbers based on my experience trying to promote Selma. What I did not tell you is the story behind the numbers at Selma. Selma is just east of Highland and south of Hollywood Boulevard. In 2005 and 2010 LAUSD, authorized two charter schools into the Hollywood area which appealed to families of means. The demographics of the students of both charters is higher white and lower poverty than Selma and other nearby schools. In 2022, they continue to have an undermining impact on neighborhood schools. Additionally, in Hollywood several apartment buildings were torn down and replaced with high-end rentals. Many families that lived in the old apartments lost their homes and were chased out of the Selma area because of high rents. Exactly, what LAUSD demographers called as our future back in 2006. While we know we need new housing in our city, no one can deny the price that is paid by gentrification, especially to our BIPOC communities. What is disturbing is how leaders in LAUSD play a part in the weakening of our neighborhood schools and act as an assist to the pitfalls of gentrification. Zero promotion, removal of programs willy nilly, no real engagement of the neighborhood. They who could do so much to strengthen our communities have been MIA or worse, underminers. Instead, people like me are left to walk down sidewalks with flyers in hand and knock-on doors on a hot spring day. I don’t want this for any other community.

As we enter our third year of Covid, it has exposed many faults in our 246-year-old country and our 221-year-old city and our 61-year-old school district. There are many questions we must ask those in power at LAUSD. But what is clear, is it is also time to end Top-Down management. Our future is only bright when we have authentic, meaningful discussion and transparent action for our neighborhood schools. Also, after twenty years of unchecked privilege by groups claiming to be advocates for public education but are instead AstroTurf® groups for privatizers, it is time for LAUSD to lean into real grassroots advocates like PST, Eastside Padres and ROSLA. Too much is riding on our student’s future to amplify AstroTurf® agendas. Those in power know who is real and who is not and since 2019 the rest of the public-school community is more and more aware of the fake from the real. My calendar says 2022. What year does yours read?

Tracy in LAUSDland.

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