Enrollment in K-12 schools dips as more students experience homelessness

Statewide enrollment in public schools saw a slight dip in 2023–24, according to annual data released May 16 by the California Department of Education — continuing a pattern the field has become all too familiar with.

There were 5,837,690 TK-12 students enrolled in 2023–24, down just 0.25 percent from 5,852,544 in 2022–23. , Although declining enrollment has been an issue for the past several years, the state saw the steepest decline in two decades at a nearly 3 percent drop from 6.16 million to 6 million, during the pandemic in 2020–21. Enrollment peaked at more than 6.3 million students in 2004.

Factors including migration to other states, a falling birthrate and school choice play a role in the saga. The California Department of Finance estimates that if trends hold, total enrollment will hit under 5.2 million by 2032–33.


One statistic that local educational agencies should be aware of is the sharp rise in students experiencing homelessness. A 12.6 percent increase in this student population occurred year-to-year for a total of 210,907 students in 2023–24. Twelfth graders made up the largest share of this group (17,484) followed by fifth and fourth graders (17,025 and 16,954, respectively).

The state saw 45,329 migrant students enrolled in 2023–24 — a 4.37 percent rise. Students in grades 3-6 as well as 7 and 12 made up the largest shares of the population.

The number of socioeconomically disadvantaged students rose 1.7 percent year-to-year for a total of 3,659,382 in 2023–24. High school students were the most severely impacted.

A 6 percent decline in the number of foster students enrolled in California schools was observed between 2022–23 and 2023–24.

Students identified as English learners (887,077) made up about 15 percent of the state’s total student population in 2023–24 and students with disabilities (612,224) represented 10.5 percent.

By English language acquisition status, 60 percent of students were classified as English only learners, 18 percent as English learners, 16 as percent reclassified fluent English proficient and 5 percent as initial fluent English proficient. Not all students’ English language acquisition status were reported.

By ethnic group, most students identified as Hispanic/Latino or white (3.3 and 1.2 million, respectively) followed by Asian (576,459), African American (287,380), those who identify as two or more races (269,631), Filipino (130,095), American Indian/Alaska Native (25,424) and Pacific Islander (23,765). Not all students’ ethnicities were reported.

Overall, about 3 million students identified as male, 2.8 million as female and 5,628 as non-binary.

Bright spots

Following significant statewide investment, participation in transitional kindergarten has been on the rise — jumping from 75,465 students in 2021–22 to 151,491 in 2023–24, according to the CDE.

Additionally, enrollment in some communities has grown. Inyo County experienced the largest increase in enrollment at 6.9 percent year-to-year for a total of 3,946 students in 2023–24.

Participation in charter school programs is still on the rise — increasing 3.5 percent year-to-year to 709,635 total student enrollees in 2023–24 — however non-charter schools are still the primary choice, serving 88 percent (more than 5.1 million) of California students.

“Enrollment figures for charter schools and private schools do not show a corresponding increase when compared to the continued decrease in traditional public school enrollment,” according to the CDE. “This suggests that continually suppressed enrollment numbers more likely reflect family disengagement than school competition, underscoring the urgency of embedding family engagement resources and strategies across California’s public school systems.”

Data included in CDE’s annual report is submitted and certified by LEAs and charters schools and represents enrollment on Census Day — the first Wednesday in October. Information can be sorted by the state, county, district or school-level.