The Impact of Declining Birth Rates and Increased School Choice on Post-Pandemic Student Enrollment Projections

Client: The San Francisco Unified School District

Location: San Francisco, California

San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is the seventh largest school district in California, educating nearly 50,000 students across 132 schools. SFUSD engaged FLO to provide ten-year enrollment forecasts and demographic analysis to inform budgeting, staffing, facilities utilization, enrollment capacities, and student assignment boundaries.

After consulting with district staff to develop geographically targeted study areas, FLO prepared grade level forecasts for the district and targeted student residence forecasts for 38 neighborhoods, 239 census tracts, and 679 census block groups. This level of detail allowed SFUSD staff to explore new student assignment policies by aggregating small geographic units to larger areas. Longitudinal analysis of student enrollment demographics, housing trends, and citywide demographics provided more context to explain enrollment trends before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results of our work became an integral part of the District’s “Resource Alignment Initiative (RAI).” The initiative began with an August 2023 special meeting of the SFUSD Board in which results of the forecast were presented to the public.[1] FLO’s analysis showed that demographic trends such as declining birth rates and a higher share of school-age residents enrolling in private schools may lead to a 4,600-student decline in SFUSD enrollment over the 10-year forecast period. One of the four guiding principles of the RAI is that “SFUSD will plan to operate at scale based on student enrollment” and the forecasts will be used by the SFUSD to inform their long-term facilities planning. FLO’s “San Francisco Unified School District Enrollment Forecasts 2023–24 to 2032–33” report is linked from the District’s website. Extensive excerpts from the report were shared in slides 107-123 of a January 2024 presentation to the District Advisory Committee.

[1] “Historical and Forecasted SFUSD TK-12 enrollment” figure presented at 41:40 of the meeting recording at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRjrOHWgiiA.

Figure 6-1 shows age-specific birth rates (ASBRs) resulting in total fertility rates (TFRs) of 1.24 in 2000, 1.27 in 2010, and 1.01 in 2020. TFR is the number of children that would be born to a woman over her childbearing years, based on ASBRs at a given time.

San Francisco’s 2010 to 2020 change mirrored the national trend, as the U.S. TFR fell from 1.93 in 2010 to 1.64 in 2020.

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Charles Rynerson

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