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The top 7 charts of 2017: LAUSD by the numbers

Sarah Favot | December 20, 2017

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It’s been a big year of big numbers at the nation’s second-largest school district.

2017 saw the most expensive school board race in U.S. history, new graduation highs, and soaring employee benefit costs.

The lows included a steeper drop in enrollment than predicted, a steady march to a structural deficit, and further financial losses because more students are chronically absent.

• Read more from The 74: 10 Charts That Changed the Way We Think About America’s Schools in 2017

Here are seven important charts that told some of the top stories of the year in Los Angeles, starting with the impending budget deficit as that is arguably the biggest challenge the district faces.

Structural budget deficit

LA Unified budget officials continue to warn that the district faces a structural deficit in 2019-20, estimated at $420 million that year. Costs are rising faster than revenue will grow, fueled in large part by declining enrollment. In 2019-20, the district is expecting revenues will increase by $6.2 million, while costs will rise by $181.4 million.

Source: LA Unified

Declining enrollment

The district has been losing students since 2002-03 when enrollment peaked at about 750,000, and this year enrollment declined even more than officials projected. Enrollment has fallen as the birth rate throughout the county has declined, the number of independent charter schools has grown, and housing costs have driven families to more affordable suburbs. This chart shows how enrollment has fallen since 2010-11 and is projected to continue its downward spiral.

The district has attempted to stem the tide of the decline by increasing popular programs like dual language and magnet programs, though it remains to be seen if these programs will have an impact.

Healthcare and pension spending

Soaring costs for healthcare benefits and retiree pensions will eat up half of all available funds by 2031-32, according to a chart presented to the school board in August. This assumes that the district continues to pay increases in healthcare costs, which typically rise about 4.5 percent a year. In the current negotiations, employee unions are calling for even more investment, while the district wants to hold the costs steady and to finance year-to-year increases through a reserve fund. It has already promised not to cut employees’ healthcare benefits. The unions want the district to agree to pay for some increases out of its operating budget, which district officials say would cost $1.25 billion by 2021.

Source: LA Unified

Chronic absences

School funding is based on the number of students who attend class each day. When students are absent, the district loses out on funding. Despite a focus on getting more kids to class, the number of students who were chronically absent in LA Unified grew by 1 percent last year from the year before. A student is considered chronically absent if he or she misses 15 or more days of school. An advisory panel spearheaded by Austin Beutner, philanthropist and former L.A. Times publisher, and Superintendent Michelle King has made chronic absenteeism its first focus. The panel gave a preview of its recommendations, showing that if every student in LA Unified attends one more day of school, the district will generate an additional $30 million in revenue.

District officials said this month that they will begin to implement the task force’s recommendations, which include pilot programs and a social media campaign explaining the importance of sending children to school every day.

A-G courses

We reported this spring that for the Class of 2016, just 47 percent earned a C or better in all of their required college prep courses. That meant less than half the graduates were eligible for California’s public universities. Some advocates and school board members support raising graduation requirements. This chart shows the percentage of students who graduated with at least a C in all of their A-G college prep courses and the percentage of students who received a D or above in those courses, which earns them a high school diploma. King has said the district’s goal is 100 percent graduation — a feat not achieved by any large urban school district.

Homeless students

The number of homeless students in LA Unified grew by 50 percent this year to the highest number recorded by the district. To explain why, officials point to the increased number of homeless people in Los Angeles and nationally and the lack of affordable housing for low-income families. Another reason for the increase is because LA Unified has doubled its staff who work with homeless from 14 to 29 people. “We’re able to better more accurately identify students who are experiencing homelessness,” said Michelle Castelo Alferes, the district’s director of pupil services.

New school board

This spring the city held the most expensive school board election in the nation’s history. Nearly $17 million was spent by candidates and outside groups divided between union backers and education reformers and charter school supporters. Ultimately, the school board president was unseated and two new young school board members joined the board, making for a 4-3 reform majority. After the election, we broke down the new board to look at their demographics and backgrounds.

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