Schools in San Francisco are seeing a substantial drop in enrollment numbers. In recent months, the public school system has been mired in racial controversies and severely criticized by parents for not prioritizing students’ education.
According to San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), the city’s public schools have lost over 1,700 students in the past year. Enrollment was already down by 1,000 at the beginning of the year, and 700 more left during the course of the year.
By the end of the 2021 school year, the district counted 50,955 students, 3.25 percent less than the 52,669 students the year prior. The greatest drop was seen in the number of white students, with enrollment falling by 299 students, or 4 percent, during 2021.
Kindergarten applications from white families fell by a staggering 55 percent, while kindergarten registration overall fell by 374 students to 3,504, a 9.64 percent decline. The loss of kindergarten students will have a sizable negative impact on the school district in the coming decade as students move up the grades, officials said to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Claire Raj, a mother of three, told the media outlet that the district let down schools and students this year. She removed her kids from McCoppin Elementary public school and enrolled them in a private school. “It’s something we had never considered, going to private school. We aren’t Catholic… Once we started considering it, it seemed we just didn’t have any choice,” she said.
The decline in students could result in a loss of up to 20 million dollars for the school district in terms of state funding. The district is already facing a deficit of up to 100 million dollars out of a 1 billion dollar budget in the next few years. California state officials have declared that they would cut funding starting next year, with each lost student estimated to result in a funding reduction of $12,000.
According to a report published in April by the California Department of Education (CDE), overall enrollment for 2020 to 2021 declined by 2.6 percent compared to the previous year. The greatest decrease in enrollment was seen among white students, with registrations dropping by 0.7 percent.
In a series of tweets, blogger Michelle Tandler, who calls herself a “moderate Dem,” asked whether the school board is happy that “there are fewer white parents to deal with” and whether they recognize that “all this vitriolic hatred and ‘social justice’ rhetoric is driving people away…?”
Tandler was referring to an incident involving SFUSD vice president Alison Collins, who “expressed frustration” with white parents in a Sept. 26, 2017 tweet. Collins called white people “YT,” a slur against white people.
In a series of tweets in 2016, Collins had also made racist statements against Asian-Americans, saying, “Being a house n****r is still being a n****r. You’re still considered ‘the help.’” When San Francisco officials asked her to resign, Collins refused. She was eventually removed from her position. Collins has filed an 87 million dollar lawsuit against the district.
In addition, in January this year, the San Francisco Board of Education voted 6 to 1 to change the names of 44 public schools. The schools carried the names of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and others, who they accused of having ties to slavery, racism, and oppression.
In late January, it came to light that the board committee’s decision was based on Wikipedia citations and inaccurate claims. The SFUSD reversed the decision in April, electing to keep the school names as is.
Another controversy was triggered in February after the board of education decided to convert the admission test at Lowell High School from merit-based to race-based, in order to promote racial diversity.
According to government data, the nationally acclaimed school has 2,871 students and is 50.6 percent Asian, 18.1 percent White, 11.5 percent Hispanic, and 1.8 percent African American. In contrast, the proportions for the entire district are 33.4 percent Asian, 14.9 percent White, 28.2 percent Hispanic, and 6.4 percent African American.
The board resolution stated that the existing admission process had created a school “that does not reflect the diversity of SFUSD students and perpetuates segregation and exclusion,” reported NBC News.
Inefficient education system
In March, parents of kids enrolled at SFUSD held a rally demanding that their kids be given five full days of in-person school instruction. In contrast, the district and teachers’ union had supported a hybrid model for school reopening, in which children would receive limited in-person instruction from teachers at best. San Francisco had shut down its public schools for over a year due to the pandemic.
“Public education is a public right. Reopen the public schools of San Francisco safely and now. It’s a shame that parents have now to organize protests for simply the rights of having a school for kids,” Dr. Frank Marchis, a dad and astronomer, tweeted on March 14. In May, San Francisco high schools were criticized for bringing back high school seniors to classes for only a single day in a bid to qualify for 12 million dollars in state funds.
“What message does this give our kids about what they are worth and how adults take care of our vulnerable populations, including kids? Does this show them that they matter, or just that the money matters,” Decreasing the Distance, a San Francisco school reopening advocacy group, said in a statement, reported San Francisco Chronicle.
“One senior told us she wants to return, but not like this. Her reaction: ‘It’s too little too late. School’s over,’” the advocacy group added. Currently, schools are scheduled to reopen in August. “A full return in the fall, Aug 16th, full days, 5 days a week,” according to SFUSD superintendent Vincent Matthews.