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Exactly how many students really did start school at LAUSD?

Mike Szymanski | August 25, 2016

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Hyde Park

Darsha Philips of Channel 7 interviews parent Hugo Henderson at Hyde Park Early Education Center last Tuesday morning. (Courtesy: LAUSD)

How many students actually started school last week at LA Unified?

It’s a question that the second-largest school district in the country is a bit sensitive about, especially because enrollment means money.

The media cavalierly bandied about a wide array of numbers that may not seem significant but can equate to a difference as big as the entire populations of cities such as Santa Monica or Beverly Hills.

When Channel 7 interviewed school officials before dawn last Tuesday, the report was “more than half a million” students were heading to school.

On the same day, the Los Angeles Times reported “542,000 in the district-operated schools” and “charter enrollment has grown to more than 101,000.”

Fox-11’s headline declared: “For LAUSD: 640,000 students head back to class.”

KPCC reported there were “roughly 514,000 students who returned to classes,” and the Los Angeles Daily News reported there were “550,000 kids returning to roughly 1,000 schools across Los Angeles” and that “another 101,000 students will return to charter schools.”

All of those media outlets that collectively came out to 10 school sites last Tuesday received a blue folder including a sheet of Fingertip Facts with the district’s latest enrollment numbers. (Some media outlets received more than one of those folders, district officials noted.) The older Fingertip Facts are still online on the district website but are expected to be updated any day.

The Fingertip Facts that were handed out showed that 528,066 “regular and affiliated charter” students from elementary, middle, high and special ed schools were enrolled in the district. The number of independent charter school students was 107,142.

That makes a total of 635,207 students that LA Unified is responsible for, and if the adult education school population is included, the number increases to 705,075.

But not even that number is quite accurate.

“You can imagine that with a district this large, you can get different numbers from different departments, but we are trying to be as accurate as possible,” said Daryl Strickland of the LA Unified Communications Department. “We are giving a number that is a snapshot at that moment in time, but it’s constantly changing.”

And, in fact, the number handed out last Tuesday isn’t totally accurate because it was missing the early enrollment numbers, Strickland said.

Strickland muses that many of the media are using statistics they have used in the past for consistency in their own sites. But this is a school district that at one time topped 750,000 students and is now facing persistent declining enrollment which costs millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, the 2016-2017 Fingertip Facts now show there are 1,283 schools and centers in the district, including 221 charter schools. There are 94 languages other than English spoken with a breakdown of 74 percent Latino, 9.8 percent white, 8.4 percent African American and 6 percent Asian.

The facts also show that the number of district employees went up from 59,823 last year to 60,191 at the opening of this school year.

That is, for now.

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