PPIC Logo Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Blog Post · May 10, 2023

Public School Enrollment across California’s Regions, Past and Future

This post is the second in a a series on declining enrollment in California’s public schools. The first post covered enrollment declines by grade. Stay tuned for a look at transitional kindergarten/kindergarten effects and private school enrollments.

photo - school hallway with blurred students and staff

Enrollment in California’s public schools has fallen for the sixth straight year. But statewide enrollment numbers mask notable underlying regional patterns. Even though most regions, especially along the coast, have seen losses and are likely to experience continued declines, some areas have seen growth—and may continue to do so. In this post, we examine how the state’s regions—and the counties within them—vary significantly in both past and projected declines.

Greater Los Angeles experienced the largest decline of any region: 14.7% from 2012 to 2022. Projections indicate a continuation of this trend, with a predicted loss of 15.1% between 2022 and 2031, the largest decline of any region by far.

The Sierra region experienced the second-largest decline among all regions, at 10.1%. However, projections suggest an increase of roughly 0.7% from 2022 to 2031. This change represents the largest swing in enrollment among all regions, with an expected difference of about 11 percentage points.

The Bay Area experienced a loss about 7%, ranking third among all the regions. Projections indicate a continuation of this trend: a decline of 7.5% by 2031, slightly below the statewide projection of 8.3%.

San Diego and Imperial experienced a relatively small decline: 4.4%. However, projections suggest that this trend will worsen significantly, with expected declines of around 9.6% by 2031. This region has the second-highest projected decline.

The Inland Empire experienced smaller losses, at 2.1%. Projections indicate that the trend will remain stable, with a decline of 3.8%.

The North Coast and North State lost only 1.9% of students. However, projections indicate that this trend will rapidly worsen, with expected declines of more than 5.2%.

The Central Coast region had the smallest decline among all declining regions, with a modest decrease of only 1.4%. However, projections suggest that this trend will worsen significantly—with an 8.1% loss by 2031—close to the statewide projection of 8.3%.

The Northern Valley is the only region projected to continue its growth trend from the previous decade. It was one of the few regions to experience an increase in enrollment from 2012 to 2022, with growth of 3.1%. This trend is projected to continue, with an increase of 3.5%, larger than any other region.

The Sacramento Metro region also grew, increasing by 4.5%. However, projections indicate that the region may face a slight decline of about 2.2%, a significant shift from the previous decade's growth.

The San Joaquin Valley grew by 6.3%—more than any other region. However, this trend may not continue: the state projects a decline of about 2.7% by 2031.

Overall, upcoming enrollment declines are expected to be steeper and more widespread than they were in the previous decade. Only two regions are likely to see growth. And while there is only a modest increase in the share of counties with declining enrollment—64% over the past decade, compared to 67% over the next one—the declines are projected to be larger in more populous counties.

There are also notable county differences within regions: for example, projections in the Central Coast region range from 15% growth (San Benito County) to 16% decline (Santa Cruz County).  The interactive map below shows the past and projected enrollment trend for each of California’s 58 counties.

State policy efforts to address enrollment declines will need to carefully consider regional implications. Where declines have already happened, continued losses may cause more difficulties; by 2031, some regions of the state will have experienced 20-year declines of 20% or greater, amplifying pressures to close schools and find other cost-saving measures.

But efforts to ease the financial burdens of declining districts could have unintended consequences. In particular, they could end up redistributing state funding from inland to coastal regions, where declines are expected to be larger. State fiscal actions will need to carefully balance student needs across districts experiencing a wide variety of enrollment trends, from growth to decline.


coronavirus COVID-19 enrollment enrollment declines in California's public schools K–12 Education Population