DAN WALTERS: Falling Enrollment Takes Local School Finances | Opinion

The 1970s and 1980s were a tumultuous time for California public schools, namely:

• A tidal wave of post-WWII baby boom children pushed school enrollment to well over 4 million, but the boom ended in the mid-1960s and slowed Global population growth led to declining enrollment in the 1970s. Statewide, local school systems cut back on school construction, sold school sites, and even closed some schools.

• At the time, schools were largely funded by locally imposed property taxes, but in 1971 a successful lawsuit, Serrano v Priest, ruled that widely varying taxable property values ​​among the state’s school districts unfairly disadvantaged children from low-wealth communities. In response, the legislature began to reshuffle school finances to provide what was called “equalization.”

• Subsequently, however, in 1978, voters adopted Proposition 13, which imposed strict limits on property taxes, forcing the state to take on the fundamental task of funding schools from income and tax taxes. sales and thus transfer the bickering over education funding to the State Capitol.

• California’s population skyrocketed in the 1980s due to high immigration and birth rates, as well as education, eventually reaching 6 million. In 1988, a decade after the approval of Proposition 13, the educational community persuaded voters to adopt Proposition 98, an extremely complex measure that dictates how schools’ share of state revenue is calculated. Since then, it has dominated the state budget process.

This extract from political history is proposed because it could be repeated.

California’s once-booming population has slowed or even reversed due to sharply declining immigration and birth rates. In addition, school enrollments, which topped 6.2 million a decade ago and remained virtually unchanged until recently, are starting what demographers believe to be a steady decline.

The COVID-19 pandemic is partly responsible for some recent declines, but the state’s finance ministry predicts that underlying demographic trends will cause registrations to drop to 5.5 million by 2030, or 700,000 less than the peak.

“The projected declines are greatest in Los Angeles and Ventura counties – about 20% less by 2030-2031,” says a recent study from the Public Policy Institute of California. “The declines in Los Angeles County are particularly noteworthy: Enrollment in the county has already fallen by more than 10% in the past decade, and enrollments in 2030-2031 are expected to be 30% lower than they are. were in 2010-11. “

State aid to schools is largely dependent on enrollment, so districts experiencing large declines, especially large urban systems such as Los Angeles Unified, are starting to feel the financial hardships and are faced with the task. unpopular to close neighborhood schools.

Right now, the school’s finances have a break. Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers have decreed state aid is temporarily based on pre-pandemic listing, but the “hold harmless” gesture is set to expire next year. What happens after that is guessable.

Decreasing enrollment could be beneficial in the long run, as it could increase per student spending. But that would depend on the willingness of state politicians to once again change the methodology of funding the school, from its base of schooling to another model.

With the tens of billions of dollars at stake, however, a major overhaul would be a difficult political task. Until that happens, local systems with the most dramatic enrollment declines will struggle to balance their budgets as their state aid shrinks and fixed costs, such as contributions to pension funds, continue. to increase.

Email Dan Walters of CalMatters at [email protected] CalMatters is a non-partisan, non-profit journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. For more articles from Walters, visit calmatters.org/dan-walters.

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