As those inside the district voice a repeated refrain that declining enrollment will likely plunge LA Unified into bankruptcy, new data show it still attracted nearly the same number of kindergarten students last year as it had nine years earlier when it had 133,000 more students overall.
The data come as a surprise amid declining enrollment as the county’s birth rate has dwindled and parents have opted to send their kids elsewhere as charter schools proliferate and many suburban school districts continue to outperform LA Unified.
In 2006-07, the district had 49,896 kindergarteners enrolled as of the October “norm day” an enrollment count used to allocate resources and funding from the state. Nine years later, 49,289 students were enrolled in kindergarten at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, the data show.
School board member Monica Garcia highlighted these numbers at the last special meeting the board held aimed at tackling its long-term financial situation. She expressed hope that the district can hang on to those students through graduation.
“Let’s keep them,” Garcia said of the kindergarteners.
But the data show, so far, the district isn’t.
The class of 2006-07 kindergarten students, has turned into 36,876 ninth-grade students in 2015-16, a 26 percent decrease. The students will graduate in 2018-19.
And the data show the decline is happening as early as first grade. The number of district kindergarteners who have gone on to first grade has decreased over the past five years, plummeting 17 percent just last year.
In a memo to the Board of Education, Chief Facilities Executive Mark Hovatter, whose office compiled the data, wrote that the increases in kindergarten enrollment “may not be a true indication of future enrollment growth.” He said transitional kindergarten has led to an increase in kindergarten enrollment.
Transitional kindergarten students are included in the kindergarten data, although district officials did not say how many of those students were in transitional kindergarten. So it is unclear how much transitional kindergarten has affected the numbers.
Transitional kindergarten was established by the state Legislature in 2010. It essentially created a two-year kindergarten program. Teachers must have a credential, the curriculum is a “modified” version of the kindergarten curriculum and students are generally in school for a full day. Since implementation in 2012, the state rolled back the eligibility date one month each year from Dec. 2 to Sept. 2. Now students can be enrolled in transitional kindergarten if their 5th birthday falls between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. If a student turns 5 on or before Sept. 1, the student enrolls in kindergarten.
“It increases the total pool of children that are counted to be in kindergarten,” said Rena Perez, director of the district’s Master Planning and Demographics.