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Blog Post · June 20, 2024

Shifting School Enrollment Trends across California’s Regions

This is the third post in a three-part series on California’s public school enrollment changes in the 2023-24 school year. The first post examined enrollment by grade and the impact of Transitional Kindergarten expansion. The second post examined falling enrollment among multilingual students.

photo - students with backpacks climb staircase at school

Enrollment in California’s public schools has fallen by 6% since 2013, and demographic projections from the state suggest steeper declines of 12% over the next decade. But statewide enrollment numbers mask important differences across regions. Enrollment has declined in nearly all regions over the past decade, and most are expected to see larger declines over the next ten years. Still, enrollment has grown in some areas, and the magnitude of changes—and projections for the future—varies substantially. In this post we dig deeper into trends and projections across California’s diverse counties and regions.

While the California Department of Finance projects that the share of counties with declining enrollment will be only modestly higher over the next decade—69%, compared to 64% in the past decade—declines are expected to be larger in more populous counties, and growth is anticipated in only two regions.

Greater Los Angeles experienced a 15.5% enrollment decline over the past decade—the largest of any region. Projections indicate an even larger loss of 19.2% from 2023 to 2033.

The Sierra experienced the second-largest regional decline (9.5%), but is one of only two regions expected to see enrollment growth (3.1%) over the next decade.

The Bay Area has seen a decline of 8.2%, third largest among regions. Projections indicate a decline of 14% by 2033—slightly above the statewide projection of 12%.

San Diego and Imperial experienced a modest decline of 4.7% since 2013, but this trend is expected to worsen significantly, with declines of around 15.1% by 2033, the second-highest projected decline among regions.

The Central Coast has seen a small decline of 2.8%, but it is expected to experience an 11.1% loss by 2033—close to the statewide projection of 12%.

The North Coast and North State lost 2.1% over the past decade; projections indicate that declines will more than triple to 7.8%.

The Inland Empire also lost 2.1%. Projections indicate a decline of 5.6% in the next decade.

The Northern Valley was one of the few regions to experience an enrollment increase (4.4%) and is one of only two regions projected to see continued growth in the next decade—though with a much smaller increase of 0.2%.

The San Joaquin Valley also grew considerably, by 5.7%. However, the state projects a decline of about 4.4% by 2033.

The Sacramento Metro has seen a 7.1% increase in enrollment—the strongest growth among regions. However, this trend is expected to shift considerably: enrollment is projected to decline about 4% by 2033.

There are also notable differences within regions. For example, projections for the Central Coast region range from 11% growth in San Benito County to 22% decline in Santa Cruz County. In the Sierra region—which is expected to see modest growth—growth above 10% is projected in Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, and Mariposa Counties, while declines above 10% are anticipated in Inyo and Mono Counties. Notably, all of the counties with projected enrollment growth are in the central and northern regions of the state, and many are less populous and more rural.

Our interactive map (below) shows past and projected enrollment trends for each of California’s 58 counties. It is important to note that these projections are estimates, and that past projections were most accurate over shorter time horizons. It should also be noted that in projections for smaller counties, small changes in student counts translate to relatively large percentages. Nonetheless, these projections shed light on how demographic factors will shape TK–12 enrollment in the coming decade.

In their efforts to address enrollment declines, state policymakers will need to carefully consider regional variation. Most coastal counties have seen declines in the past decade and are expected to experience even larger declines over the coming decade. In some cases, the cumulative decline over multiple decades means drastically smaller public school systems: in the Greater LA area, enrollment is now 21% below its peak in 2003, and projects to be 37% below 2003 levels by 2033—a decline of over 850,000 students in 30 years.

The state will also need to consider potential unintended consequences of actions it takes to ease the financial burdens of declining districts. For example, providing additional funding to declining districts would likely shift state support from inland to coastal regions, even though coastal incomes are generally higher. In short, the state will need to carefully balance student needs across districts experiencing a wide variety of enrollment trends, from growth to decline.


enrollment K–12 Education Population public school enrollment trends