Over the last couple of years, declining enrollment has been an issue that many local school districts have been forced to endure. In my own district, Lynwood Unified, we have lost hundreds of students, causing our School Board to plan ahead and tighten the district budget to ensure future fiscal solvency. Still, despite our efforts, the effect of declining enrollment has taken a toll on our ADA funds and our overall reserves, limiting our ability to bring in new programs to recruit more students. While recruiting new students and providing more access to competitive programs to keep our students seems to be the go to solution to the issue, there are underlying factors causing for this decline in enrollment across many urban school districts in the state.
Late 2017, the Downey Unified, a reputable district known for its continuity and stability, requested a study to determine long-range enrollment trends. Truth is, even though people in my own district were under the impression that we were losing students to Downey, DUSD lost over 800 students since the start of the 2016-17 school year, and have continued to show a decline over the last year. The Report, generated by educational consulting firm Jack Schreder & Associates, stressed that the declining enrollment numbers were consistent with statewide trends: “The study discovered that the population within district boundaries of adults that are of childbearing age is declining; increased housing costs have made it more difficult to purchase a home; and families with school-age children are migrating inland.”
This brings forth an often undiscussed issue: the lack of collaboration between cities and school districts to help battle declining enrollment. With housing costs continuing to sky rocket, it is not a surprise to see the migration of families towards the Inland Empire, where housing is more affordable. I am a renter, as purchasing a house in my community is not feasible given the housing market. This creates a challenge as my own experience could change if I made the move Inland, where houses are more affordable. My struggle to remain in Lynwood reminds me of the similar struggle many are experiencing.
Our district is not the only one struggling but perhaps a more strategic partnership with the city and housing non-profits can provide us an opportunity to set an example of how to encourage families to stay in the community without needing to choose between home ownership and community.
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