Hahnel, C. & Pearman II, F. (2023) Declining Enrollment, School Closures, and Equity Considerations


Curator LEARN


Curator LEARN

Article Summary


Title: Declining Enrollment, School Closures, and Equity Considerations

Year: 2023

Author: Carrie Hahnel, Francis A. Pearman, II

Primary Author: Carrie Hahnel:

Criteria: Excellent resource sponsored by the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) with comprehensive guidelines for both state and local leaders aimed at promoting equity amidst the difficulties of school closures.

Key Takeaway:  This article underscores the critical need for racial equity in the process of school closures, revealing how such decisions disproportionately impact students of color, particularly Black students, in California.  Comprehensive guidelines for local and state leaders are provided to ensure that the public education system adapts to changing enrollment dynamics in a manner that is equitable.

Summation and Insights:  When financial considerations necessitate the closure or consolidation of schools, it presents a significant challenge for both districts and families. A crucial aspect to consider? Racial equity in school closures.  This study out of California, where enrollment in public schools has decreased 6% since 2007, reports a disturbing trend: school closures disproportionately affect students of color and particularly Black students.  What’s more, the issue is not fully explained by standard reasons for closures like declining enrollment or poor performance. Recent studies have delved deeper into these racial disparities. Research shows that schools predominantly serving Black students are more likely to be closed, and these closures can't be fully explained by conventional justifications. One striking fact underscores this disparity.  The odds of school closure increased by nearly 25 percent for every ten percentage point increase in the share of Black students in schools that were otherwise equivalent.  Many scholars contextualize these findings within the broader scope of U.S. history, touching on segregation, neighborhood disinvestment, and gentrification.

In response to these concerns, California has initiated legislative measures. In 2022, Governor Newsom signed a bill mandating an “equity impact analysis” for schools considering closure or consolidation due to financial strain. Additionally, in April 2023, Attorney General Rob Bonta emphasized the necessity for school closure decisions to adhere to federal and state civil rights laws. This evolving scenario presents a complex challenge for educators, administrators, and policymakers nationwide, highlighting the need to balance financial realities with the commitment to equity and the well-being of all students.

Interested in how educators can prioritize equity in decisions about school closures?  Then check out our link to this excellent report by PACE, (Policy Analysis for California Education), which provides comprehensive guidance for leaders at both the local and state level for integrating equity considerations into these difficult decisions.  For example, local leaders can create a transparent process and share detailed information about demographic and enrollment trends, as well as create opportunities for community involvement during pre-closure and closure phases. For displaced students, there’s a push to relocate them to high-performing schools and to create accessible routes and safe transportation to ensure that students are able to attend. State leaders, meanwhile, are encouraged to collect and share data on projected population trends, incentivize local education agencies to create affordable housing for teachers and families, and advocate that an “equity impact analysis” be performed before school closures are approved. 

The insights provided by the PACE report are a crucial starting point for integrating equity into school closure decisions. However, the path forward requires innovative thinking and fresh solutions to ensure that adjustments to the education system reflect current enrollment trends, advance equity, and break away from long standing patterns of segregation. 



24 January 2024