San Francisco Private School Enrollment Up While SFUSD Enrollment is Down
Private School Enrollment is up 1.1% while SFUSD Enrollment is Down 4.7%. Extended school closures may have caused a switch to private schools
Enrollment in SFUSD is down 6.6% since Fall 2019 and 4.7% since Fall 2020. These enrollment declines have precipitated a budget crisis. How much of the decline can be blamed on the pandemic and how much on SFUSD’s dilatory approach to reopening? Recently published private school enrollment figures allow us to attempt to answer this question.
As a refresher, here is a timeline showing when enrollment numbers were recorded and when enrollment decisions were made.
October 2019: Enrollment figures for the 2019-20 academic year are published.
March 2020: All public and private schools go online due to the pandemic. Private school enrollment decisions for the 2020-21 academic year are made.
August 2020: All schools start the new academic year online.
October 2020: Enrollment figures for the 2020-21 academic year are published
Oct-Dec 2020: Most private schools start reopening in person.
March 2021: Enrollment decisions for the 2021-22 academic year are made.
August 2021: Public schools reopen for in-person learning.
October 2021: Enrollment figures for the 2021-22 academic year are published.
Enrollment decisions for the 2020-21 academic year were made in March 2020 when the pandemic was still a novelty and all schools, public and private, were online. The pandemic may have led people to move out of the city, causing enrollment to fall by October, but there was no reason for people to switch to private schools by that point because they were still online too.
Private schools were more affected by the first phase of the pandemic than public schools. SFUSD enrollment in October 2020 was down 2.0% (1036 students) on the year before but enrollment in the private schools for which we have data was down even more: 4.0% (905 students). Perhaps private school parents were more inclined to move out of the city because they were more able to work remotely. Perhaps some private school parents lost their jobs and decided they couldn’t afford private school. The losses were concentrated in the K-8 schools which were down 6.6%. Catholic schools lost a bit more than non-religious schools but other Christian schools such as Cornerstone and West Portal Lutheran were particularly hard hit. Private high school enrollment actually rose 1.5% because Riordan added more than enough students to compensate for the closure of Mercy.
By the time enrollment decisions for the 2021-22 academic year were made in March 2021, most private schools had been open for months and there was not even a plan for public schools to open. Parents who were frustrated at SFUSD would have had the opportunity to switch to a private school if they could afford to do so.
SFUSD enrollment in October 2021 was down a further 4.7% (2463 students) whereas private school enrollment was up 1.1% (236 students). Both K-8 and high school enrollment were up slightly. If the pandemic continued to push some private school parents out of the city, their departure was more than made up by public school parents switching their children to private.
Private schools suffered bigger enrollment losses than SFUSD in the first phase of the pandemic. but have since regained some of those losses while SFUSD’s losses accelerated.
All private schools are required to file an annual affidavit with the California Department of Education giving their enrollment by grade for the year. The affidavit is supposed to be filed in October but some schools are more diligent than others. The 2021-22 figures are available here. Although some private schools have yet to file, the ones that have filed represent over 91% of all enrollment in San Francisco private schools, enabling us to draw some conclusions about how private school enrollment has fared during the pandemic.