Centering Equity in the School-Closure Process in California
Enrollment in California public schools has been declining and is projected to fall even more steeply during the next decade. Because funding for school districts is largely based on average daily attendance rates, a decline in enrollment results in a loss of funding. To address budget shortfalls and align services with student counts, many districts have consolidated or closed schools, or they are contemplating doing so.
School closures may enable districts to achieve budgetary savings and economies of scale that help them provide more resources on a per-pupil basis. But closures come with a cost. They often save less money than districts anticipate, have mixed impacts on academic achievement, are disruptive to students and families, and may contribute to neighborhood blight. School closures also disproportionately affect students of color and low-income students. In some communities, they exacerbate decades of segregation, neighborhood disinvestment, and gentrification.
Leaders in declining-enrollment districts will need to consider the benefits and costs when seeking to balance their budgets with new enrollment realities. This report makes three recommendations for how local decision makers, including district officials and school board members, should approach school closures:
- establish and execute an inclusive, transparent process;
- implement a strategy to provide displaced students and the broader student community with accessible, high-quality educational opportunities; and
- develop a long-term plan to address factors—such as housing affordability, gentrification, and economic divestment—contributing to the disproportionate closure of schools serving low-income students and students of color.
State leaders can help by supporting the collection and dissemination of data on demographic trends and projections, including how these patterns will affect schools, and by creating space to reflect on potential solutions with an eye towards regional needs and priorities related to racial and economic integration.
This report neither argues for a moratorium on school closures nor asserts that district finances supersede community needs and preferences. Instead, it aims to provide evidence and suggestions to help state and local education leaders as they confront declining enrollment. It also urges them to work with other city and county agencies, including housing and economic development authorities, to increase opportunities for low-income families and communities of color so that fewer enrollment-related school closures are necessary.
This publication is part of a three-piece PACE series that examines racial disproportionality in school closures in California in the wake of declining student enrollment. In addition to this piece, there is a policy brief and a working paper.