Nov 9, 2021 - News

Austin public school enrollment in the doldrums

A custodial worker cleans a classroom in Leander.

A custodial worker cleans a classroom at an elementary school in Leander. Photo: Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hammered by the coronavirus, enrollment in Austin public schools now clocks in at 74,727 — a few thousand short of the district's goal.

Why it matters: Fewer students mean less money for the district, per state formulas, and vacant positions may go unfilled.

  • Rocked by depleted enrollment, the district already this year canceled a 2% teacher pay raise.
  • The Austin Independent School District is heavy with fixed costs, such as keeping the gymnasium lights on and air conditioning classrooms.
  • More than 80% of the district's budget goes to salaries and benefits.

Zoom out: Enrollment in Austin public schools has declined year over year recently, down from more than 85,000 in 2018 — even as the city's population booms. ​​

  • The trend worsened during the pandemic: Around 5,000 students withdrew.

Yes, but: While the district didn't hit its target, it stopped the bleeding, with this year's enrollment roughly the same as 2020's.

The district set a goal of 77,331 students.

  • The shortfall of 2,605 students translates to a loss of $15 million.

That's a drop in a $1.7 billion budget, but it's part of a bigger trend in kids leaving public school.

It's not as though there are fewer kids.

Where they're going: While AISD used to be the standard destination for kids across the socio-economic spectrum, that's changing amid a broadening landscape of charter and private schools.

  • Parents are moving to suburban districts where housing is more affordable.

What they're saying: "We are already working to lessen the deficit for the upcoming year by reviewing every vacant position to see if it's necessary to fill," AISD spokesperson Cristina Nguyen tells Axios.

Meanwhile: District officials say they're continuing the day-to-day work of connecting with families who live in the district but may not be going to Austin ISD schools.

  • In October, the district's central office staff called more than 700 sixth-grade students who attended AISD elementary schools but hadn't shown up this year to their middle schools.
  • As part of AISD's Operation Reconnect, AISD staff have fanned out and knocked on doors to convince parents to enroll their children in public schools.

The big picture: Public schools generally are seeing enrollment declines amid the pandemic and profound changes in how kids go to school.


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