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L.A. Unified has fewer students; charter school enrollment rises sharply

November 4, 2009 |  6:00 am

Enrollment in traditional Los Angeles-area public schools has declined this fall, even as the number of students enrolled in charter schools has exploded, according to just-released data.

The drop at traditional schools is slightly more than 3%, with enrollment falling to 617,798 students. The number of students at independent charters is up nearly 19%, to 60,643 students. More students attend charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District than in any other district in the country.

Charter schools operate like their own school districts, with control over most of the funding generated by their students. With the opening of new charters in the Los Angeles area, the enrollment shift was not entirely unexpected, but it nonetheless has broad implications for the nation's second-largest school system. When the district sheds students, it also loses the funds that accompany them, which puts pressure on a district budget with built-in costs for services and facilities.

Fewer students ultimately result in staff reductions --- over and above those already caused by the state budget crisis.

Even if the charter students are added in, district enrollment is down 1.4% from last year, continuing a recent trend. The latest numbers are culled from an annual survey called “norm day,” which is important for setting staffing levels at schools as well as determining future funding.

-- Howard Blume