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LA district schools lost 13,100 students this year — here’s what they plan to do about it

Mike Szymanski | October 12, 2017

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When board members heard Tuesday that the number of students who have left LA Unified schools was even worse than they’d been told, they wanted to know what was being done.

Here’s what they heard:
• launching the unified enrollment system
• offering a broader range of school options
• reducing absences.


And here is what board members have proposed:
• increase achievement at district schools
• redouble student recovery efforts 
• ensure that students in pre-kindergarten classes remain in district schools.

“It’s disheartening,” Chief Financial Officer Scott Price said, who reported Tuesday to the board on the data from “norm day,” the snapshot of district attendance that gives the official student count. “It’s like losing a small school district every year.”

He said the school district is down 450 students more than his office reported last week.

The final norm day for the district on Oct. 9 showed a 2.55 percent decline from last year, worse than both the 2.1 percent drop that had been projected for the year and the 2.51 percent drop that was reported in September.

In total, there are 13,093 fewer students than last year, Price said.

“Besides asking people to have more children and solving the housing crisis, what can we be doing?” asked board member Nick Melvoin.

“The goal is increased achievement. That will lead to increased enrollment,” he added.

Enrollment declines are higher on the west side, probably due to high housing costs, and “there is a larger decline in Local District East, which may have something to do with our national politics,” Price said, referring to presidential policies on immigrants and sanctuary communities.

The new unified enrollment system will help, district officials said.

“A game changer is our unified enrollment. That levels the playing field, and all parents now have access to information and can navigate enrolling their child into the best programs,” said Vivian Ekchian, who is acting superintendent while Michelle King is on medical leave. “Every local district has planted seeds, and I expect when people see the increase of the variety of programs we will change the enrollment decline to an enrollment increase.”

Already 14,000 visitors have checked out the unified enrollment system since it launched last week and 9,000 have enrolled, Ekchian said, adding that parents can enroll through Nov. 9. The unified enrollment system does not include independent charter schools as options.

“There are programs you have never even heard about,” said Ekchian, listing a dual-language Korean-English program in pre-kindergarten, all-girls and all-boys schools, a firefighter academy, and a robotics school.

Another drain on district enrollment is the number of families moving to independent charter schools, which are estimated to be growing by 4,000 students this year. Charters are publicly funded schools, but most of the state funding their receive bypasses the district.

Melvoin called for more transparency to show which schools are growing and which are losing students. He noted that this new data could help district schools plan better.

Melvoin also asked for an update from the LA Unified Advisory Task Force that the superintendent put together, as they are exploring ways to lower chronic absences and increase attendance.

The school district gets allotted money based on overall enrollment and the average daily attendance of each student.

Ekchian said the district staff looks at “enrollment and daily attendance together and are working on strategies to increase both every day.” One of those ways is to explain to parents how the district loses money every time a student doesn’t show up for school.

“What we will do now is see where the bright spots are and where attendance has risen and look at those programs and make sure we can duplicate those kinds of activities,” Price said. “We are working closely with the superintendent so we can flag those areas.”


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