San Jose student enrollment is a mixed bag
Students listen to their teacher in a transitional kindergarten class at Tom Matsumoto Elementary School in the Evergreen Elementary School District. Photo courtesy of Evergreen Elementary School District.

    Santa Clara County’s largest school districts are dealing with declining student enrollment this school year. Yet, one group is seeing a surprising enrollment increase.

    Although school districts are reporting a loss in student population for the 2022-23 school year, according to new data from the California Department of Education, a deeper dive shows that’s not true for the county’s Latino demographic.

    David Whitenack, chair of San Jose State University’s Department of Teacher Education, said the uptick in Latino students can be tied to ongoing immigration. Santa Clara County naturalized more than 20,000 citizens last year and also saw an influx of Colombian migrants in 2022.

    “We still see young students entering the school system from other countries, particularly more refugee populations,” Whitenack told San José Spotlight. “There’s a lot of migration globally happening right now because of political unrest, social unrest (and) lack of employment opportunities.”

    Evergreen Elementary School District spokesperson Johanna Villareal said immigration is a factor in the district’s student population recovery from pandemic-era enrollment drops. Evergreen serves more than 8,800 students across 16 campuses. The district saw a 6.3% enrollment decline during pandemic years between 2020-21 and 2021-22, but recently saw a slight rise of 3.1% for this school year. Latino students made up 24.9% of the district in 2018-19, which has since risen to 26.5%.

    “The smaller decline is due to the addition in enrollment from families who recently migrated to the area,” Villareal told San José Spotlight. “Many of these families came from Central and South America.”

    Whitenack said the influx of immigrant students means districts need to invest in more bilingual teachers and offer counseling to students transferring into local schools. State testing results showed the county’s English language learner students saw mixed progress during the pandemic. Low-income students were also disproportionately affected by drops in test scores. Schools can often have a positive effect on struggling students by acting as community hubs for immigrant populations, he added.

    “Often, their families need a lot of support in terms of child care, employment, learning English, getting help with housing, making connections with regards to their medical and dental and other health needs,” he said.

    Despite gains in the Latino student population, districts are not yet fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2022 report forecasts Santa Clara County will see a more than 15% enrollment decline in the next decade, going from 253,625 students in 2020-21 to 212,501 students by 2030-31.

    San Jose Unified School District spokesperson Jennifer Maddox said the shift to remote work also means families can relocate to less expensive areas without losing their jobs, further contributing to enrollment declines.

    “The circumstances of the pandemic pushed more people out of the Bay Area,” Maddox told San José Spotlight. “Our schools with higher percentages of families who are socioeconomically disadvantaged have seen sharper declines in enrollment as the cost of living continues to rise.”

    The district saw a 6.3% enrollment decline between 2020-21 and 2021-22, and recovered to 1.5% between 2021-22 and 2022-23.

    Maddox said declining enrollment pushed the district to shift its funding models in order to continue supporting existing students. Most districts rely on state funding based on pupil attendance, she said. In working to combat potential funding loss, Maddox said San Jose Unified School District now relies on local property taxes for funding.

    “Because San Jose Unified is locally funded, we do not lose funding when enrollment declines,” Maddox told San José Spotlight.

    Looking toward the future, Whitenack said state lawmakers need to increase the amount of funding each student gets in a given district. Addressing educational inequality also means addressing access to housing and economic opportunity, he added.

    “It’s not only a commitment to education that I think is necessary. It’s just really a commitment to people,” Whitenack said. “All of these services are interconnected. It’s not as though education exists in its own silo.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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