Kern’s School Enrollment Up Slightly as West Bakersfield Aids Growth

Friday May 17, 2024

California’s public-school enrollment has dropped for the past seven school years but is showing signs of slowing, according to new data released this week by the California Department of Education (CDE). Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, California schools started to see a gradual decline in enrollment. During the height of the pandemic, the downward trajectory became more pronounced with 270,000 fewer students enrolled in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. The decline has since slowed, with 40,000 fewer students enrolled in 2022-23 and about 15,000 fewer this year. 

In Kern County, where population has continued to grow slightly, school enrollment among the county’s 46 school districts is up modestly for the third year. Pockets of southwest and northwest Bakersfield have accounted for most of the growth. TK-12 enrollment as measured on Census Day — the first Wednesday in October each school year — was 198,315 this school year compared to 197,042 in 2022-23. 

It has been a volatile few years, statewide and locally. During the 2020-21 school year, Kern saw a sharp decrease in overall enrollment due to disruptions caused by the pandemic. Kindergarten attendance is not required by law, so many parents opted to have their children sit the year out, accounting for much of the enrollment losses that year.

While kindergarten enrollment has largely rebounded, many districts throughout the county have experienced varying degrees of declining enrollment. Experts attribute this decline to families relocating out of the state — or migration within the county itself — and a significant decrease in the state’s birth rate over the past decade.

Experts attribute the decline in enrollment to families relocating out of the state and a significant decrease in the state’s birth rate over the past decade.

Nestled in the southwest corner of Bakersfield where urban begins to meet rural is the small Lakeside Union School District. Enrollment there boasts an increase of about 20 percent in the past ten years.

District Superintendent Ty Bryson says the growth is mostly due to families moving into the area, driven by new housing developments that are affordable and attractive to first-time buyers. Ample community amenities like parks, easy access to shopping centers, and recreational facilities enhance the area’s appeal.

“As urban areas become more crowded, many families look for suburban settings that offer a blend of urban conveniences and rural tranquility,” he said.

Neighboring Panama-Buena Vista Union School District (P-BVUSD) has seen the most growth of any district in Bakersfield over the past ten years. In the 2014-15 school year, the district served about 17,500 students. This year enrollment sits at 19,369 and is expected to continue to grow.  

District spokeswoman Chantel Stansberry acknowledged that new housing opportunities in the Southwest are the driving factor but was quick to point out that the district has been highly strategic in attracting new students.

“We have been very effortful in striving to connect with our community,” she said.

By implementing frequent family engagement opportunities and engaging in regular communication that is open and honest, the district has created a reputation that is inviting to parents who want an inclusive environment for their children. 

“Our classrooms and campuses are very inviting and welcoming,” Stansberry said. “Teachers take the time to get to know the personality and life circumstances of each student in their class.”

To keep pace with the growth, the district added Whitley Elementary School in 2018 and Highgate Elementary in 2021. Another new school, Mountain View TK-8 School, is expected to open for the 2025-26 school year on the corner of Taft Highway and Stine Road.

Meanwhile, just north of P-BVUSD’s boundary, the Rosedale Union School District has also seen steady growth in recent years too, as has the Kern High School District (KHSD). KHSD’s enrollment this year is roughly 43,000 with most of its growth coming from expansion in west Bakersfield over the past 30 years. The district has opened five westside high schools in that time — Stockdale in 1991, Centennial in 1993, Liberty in 1999, Frontier in 2006, and Independence in 2008 — and enrollment has more than doubled. Its newest high school, Del Oro in southeast Bakersfield, opened at the start of the 2022-23 school year. 

By Robert Meszaros

By Robert Meszaros

Rob Meszaros is Director of Communications for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, where he has served since 2012. In his role, Meszaros oversees media relations, internal and external communication strategies, publications, Marcom, branding, and multi-media content creation. Before joining KCSOS, Meszaros was the PIO for CSU Bakersfield and earlier worked for seven years at The Bakersfield Californian.