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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The California Department of Education released data Thursday showing the state saw school enrollment drop by 2.6%, or more than 160,000 students, in the 2020-21 academic year.

The CDE says the decline in public school enrollment follows a trend that has remained steady since 2014. But the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a sharp drop in those numbers.

“In a year that has been so challenging for educators, students, and families, it is concerning to see this decrease, especially those in our youngest grades,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. “While there are many reasons to stay optimistic that enrollment will rebound as conditions improve, allowing more schools to safely return to in-person instruction, we also must help schools identify opportunities to engage with families who either sought new options for their students during the pandemic or need additional resources and support to connect with school and succeed.”

Students in kindergarten to sixth grade made up 88% of the drop in enrollment and white students had the biggest decline in numbers at .7%. On the other hand, Hispanic and Latino students increased their enrollment numbers by .4%.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has been pushing for a return to in-person teaching after many California families and teachers struggled with Zoom lessons. The governor has said he is expecting all California schools to reopen by the time the new academic year starts, even as the state lags behind others in its return to classroom instruction.

“I want to challenge those districts but I also want to support them. Look, I’m mindful of the stresses that they’re under,” Newsom said.