152,000 California Students Unaccounted For, New Study Shows

An astounding 152,000 students have disappeared from California’s public schools since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research from Stanford University, Big Local News and the Associated Press. Nationwide, that figure is at least 234,000 but likely higher, as data was unavailable for 29 states.

Enrollment losses over the first two years of the pandemic were concentrated among the youngest students. K-12 public school enrollment declined by more than 1.2 million. Private schools saw a 4% jump in enrollment during the same time period, while homeschooling climbed 30%.

But over one-third of public school enrollment declines cannot be accounted for by the growth in private or homeschooling. That leaves kindergarten skipping, unregistered homeschooling, and truancy as likely (and disturbing) possibilities. 

Stanford education professor Thomas Dee says the study accounted for California’s population losses. Dee thinks a sizable number of children and their parents simply gave up on going to school.

As shocking as that may sound, Scott Moore, head of Bay Area childcare nonprofit Kidango, is not surprised.

“We should consider what breaking the social compact did for public education,” he told EdSource. “For a long time in California, most people were back to work while schools remained closed. Families were not only left in the lurch, they also had plenty of time to ask questions they likely never considered: Is my child happier at home? Is my child safe at school? Can I trust my school to educate and care for my child? Is school worthwhile?”  

The legacy of COVID will be felt for years to come.