Enrollment at Austin ISD, Eanes ISD and other school districts across Texas is down this year, a trend that officials are attributing to remote learning in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of students at Austin ISD is roughly 3,400 lower compared to this time last year, Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde reported to the board of trustees at a meeting on Monday.
This decline is most concentrated in pre-K enrollment, which is about 1,850 students shy from what it was after the first week of classes last year. The district's overall enrollment is around 80,000.
"Our surrounding school districts as well as school districts through the United States and in Texas are in fact experiencing some concerns with enrollment," Elizalde said at her first board meeting since being appointed last month.
Compared to this time last year, Eanes ISD's overall enrollment is down 211 students—for a total of 7,954—while its high school enrollment remains unchanged, according to Deputy Superintendent Jeff Arnett.
"There are a variety of factors, but the pandemic, the economy and other schooling options seem to be most reasonable explanations for the moderate decline," he said in a statement to Austonia. The state of Texas guarantees public school funding based, in part, on student enrollment numbers.
Elizalde attributed the drop in enrollment at AISD to virtual learning, explaining that some families may not be engaged in remote instruction, and expressed hope that the numbers may shift when the district begins a phased return to in-person instruction on Oct. 5.
To this end, AISD will launch a campaign to try to increase enrollment to be more in line with district projections, which actually estimated enrollment would grow this year.
Some of the first students to return to their classrooms will be those in the pre-K and kindergarten grades.
"The rationale for that is that our youngest learners are the ones who benefit the most from in-person instruction," Elizalde said.
Other school districts are reporting similar trends.
As of the third day of class, Houston ISD saw its enrollment fall by more than 30,000 students—to 167,163—compared to the same time last year. Similarly, Dallas ISD reported a roughly 10% drop of 13,500 students and San Antonio ISD said its enrollment is about 2,400 shy of its enrollment last year, which was 6,400.
School districts are already contending with increased costs due to the pandemic and pressure to reopen from parents and the Texas Education Agency, which has hinged funding on a return to in-person learning.
Private schools across Texas are also seeing an average enrollment decline of 8%, with the most impact in the lower grades, according to the Texas Private Schools Association. However, the trend may not extend to Austin, where Executive Director Laura Colangelo said some private schools have reported "significant increased enrollment."
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The California exodus has made headlines for several years now, and even more recently, with thousands of West Coasters seeking tax relief, less-expensive real estate and a simpler lifestyle in Texas' capital city.
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