Understanding Our Enrollment Trend

Dear community member,

This week I want to highlight an important trend in public K-12 enrollment in Santa Cruz County, the topic of my recent column in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Enrollment has been trending downward for several years and fell more than 2.2% from the 2021-22 school year to this year, the largest single-year drop going back at least several decades. Official countywide K-12 enrollment is now at 38,025 students, the lowest level since the mid-’90s. Statewide enrollment is also down overall, but not to the same extent.

These aren’t just statistics. Enrollment affects schools and districts in many ways, particularly when it comes to their budgets. This trend underscores the importance of doing the hard work of fully funding public education and properly compensating our hard-working educators. 

While the pandemic no doubt accelerated the trend, it isn’t the sole cause. Factors appear to include demographic changes, birth rates, migration out of the state or away from the coast, and – especially here, in the nation’s second least affordable housing market – cost of living. 

Affordable housing is at the heart of so many conversations in this community, and enrollment is no exception. But the good news is there is an incredible amount of energy and resources devoted to this issue, both with local governments and nonprofits as well as in districts, where ideas such as workforce housing are continuing to gain traction. 

Our schools and districts are well aware of the enrollment trend and are working to ensure they can manage its impacts. I have full confidence they will continue to do so successfully. It’s also important for the community as a whole to have an understanding of the trend and its place in the wider community conversation around cost of living.

I encourage those interested to read the full column for a closer look at the causes and impacts of declining enrollment, ongoing efforts, and indications of the future trend.

Yours in education and equity,
Dr. Faris Sabbah
County Superintendent of Schools