Enrollment has been gradually decreasing at Long Beach Unified School District over the past two decades, and this year is no exception.

As of Sept. 8, enrollment for the 2023-2024 school year is currently just below 64,400, although it could continue to fluctuate in either direction in coming weeks, according to LBUSD Chief Academic Officer, Brian Moskovitz.

This is about 1,200 less students than last year—close to a 2% decrease.

About 20 years ago, Long Beach Unified reached a peak of nearly 100,000 students, but since then, the district has typically seen a 1.5 to 2% decrease each year, apart from the first couple years of the pandemic when the trend was accelerated, with enrollment decreases nearing 2.5%.

Moskovitz noted that this is not unique to Long Beach. In fact, other districts have seen even greater drops in enrollment, he said.

“When we look at factors for declines across Southern California, across the state, a lot of it does have to do with cost of living and the implications from that,” Moskovitz said.

Leyla Mejia sits with her classmates while in kindergarten class at the first day of school at Garfield Elementary School in Long Beach, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

As the district continues to monitor population fluctuations, housing and rental costs, and projected birth rates, Moskovitz pointed to one silver lining: the transitional kindergarten and kindergarten programs, both of which became full-day programs last year.

In conjunction with the district’s expanded learning programs, which allow children to be supervised until 5 or 6 p.m., the district has seen an accelerated increase in transitional kindergarten enrollment.

As of Sept. 6, about 300 more students are enrolled in transitional kindergarten than last year, said Moskovitz, and enrollment is expected to continue increasing over the next couple of months and even throughout the year.

The shift to both full-day programs was partially an effort to encourage more families to enroll, who may have previously struggled with having to pick their child up at 11 a.m., Moskovitz said.

The district’s funding is directly linked to enrollment and attendance.

“It’s definitely the biggest challenge to maintaining funding levels,” Moskovitz said. Increased cost of employee benefits as well as heightening utility costs can also put pressure on school district budgets, Moskovitz said. “But the greatest factor would be the actual enrollment and attendance.”

The district’s state funding is based on attendance and varies for students in different grades, ranging from $10,069 to $12,327 per student.

On average, LBUSD also receives an additional $3,100 in supplemental funds for each student who is eligible for free or reduced-price meals, an English learner or a foster youth.

“We gather information from each family regarding their home income levels to see if students may qualify for free reduced lunch,” Moskovitz said. “So that can also bring in the additional resources that we may need to support students and families that may be experiencing various challenges.”

An estimated 64% of students meet the criteria for supplemental funding this school year, according to the district.

Garfield Elementary School Principal Monica Alas joins a kindergarten class on the first day of school at Garfield Elementary School in Long Beach, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

To mitigate the impacts of a loss in funding, a key piece is projecting forward, Moskovitz said.

Funding for each year is determined by the year prior, meaning the district has time to adjust staffing accordingly, from teachers to support staff.

“That may look like reducing a teacher position at a school site that looks like they’re having declining enrollment,” Moskovitz said. “That happens every year, where we try to make as close as possible staffing allocations based on what we anticipate the student enrollment being.”

If a third grade classroom at one school is closed, for instance, they could be moved over to another school where a transitional kindergarten classroom is being added. In recent weeks, a couple of additional transitional kindergarten classrooms have been opened in response to higher than expected enrollment, Moskovitz said.

Continued enrollment declines could even mean closing a school and changing it for a new use.

For instance, Keller Elementary was closed due to decreased enrollment, and reopened as a middle school that supported dual immersion programs, Moskovitz said.

What is now McBride High school was previously DeMille Middle School, and Sato High School used to be Hill Middle School.

“Those are advantages in some way of declining enrollment, that we’re able to repurpose some of our facilities for other programs that we’re interested in creating,” Moskovitz said.

Kindergarten Teacher Anna Gines welcomes her class on the first day of school at Garfield Elementary School in Long Beach, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

As for combatting the decline itself, the district accepts families who live in other areas, and has participated in outreach efforts such as signage on buses, or flyers in chilcare programs, churches, and other community centers, Moskovitz said.

“We know that there’s still a need to do some outreach to families within the community just to let them know about programs we have to offer,” he said.

If rates continue to decrease, however, at some point, there’s an expectation of “a bottoming out,” Moskovitz said, where the district is able to meet the demand of families.

“But until then, we’ll just have to continue to make those staffing adjustments as we go to try to keep up with the reductions in funding that we will realize as a result of the declining enrollment,” he said.

“We can’t control cost of living, we can’t control cost of housing. So the best thing we can control is trying to project and try to allocate staffing proportionate to what we believe will be some of the reductions,” Moskovitz said. “It’s not a perfect science, but it’s our best, I guess, solution to try to mitigate some of the impacts.”