The Austin Independent School District didn’t meet its enrollment goals for this school year, according to data collected for the state in October.
The school district lost thousands of students last school year during the Covid-19 pandemic and was hoping to see 77,331 students enrolled in AISD schools this year. Instead, there are 74,727 students.
State funding is tied to enrollment. Not meeting the enrollment goal means the district lost around $15 million in funding.
Alejandro Delgado, executive director of enrollment and advocacy, says he has “mixed feelings” about this year’s enrollment, which almost exactly matches last year’s total of 74,725.
“On the one hand, (I’m) disappointed that we didn’t hit our goal,” Delgado said. “But on the other hand, really hopeful, because we stopped the decline after what a terrible year Covid was.”
Typically, district staffers get an annual raise that can vary. Over the summer, Education Austin, the labor union of AISD employees, asked for a 2 percent raise for staff. Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said the district could afford that raise only if the district met enrollment goals. She gave teachers and staff a one-time payment of $1,000 and said there would be 2 percent raises if the district met its enrollment goals in the upcoming school year.
“We didn’t meet that, which means that we aren’t going to be getting that 2 percent raise, but we are going to continue supporting our staff,” district spokesperson Cristina Nguyen said.
The decline in enrollment has been happening for years. In 2013, AISD had 85,000 students, Delgado said.
“Covid has really accelerated what was already happening around affordability, around parent choice, competition,” he said. “That’s reality, and we’re going to work twice as hard, be more strategic and engage our communities more authentically.”
One strategic way of reaching the community was focusing on sixth-graders, one of the grade levels that has had a huge dip in enrollment, Delgado said. A few weeks ago, district staff called families with sixth-graders to ask why they left AISD or why they stayed.
Forty percent of the families had left the district because they moved out of Austin. Another 40 percent had left for charter schools, private schools or homeschool options.
Delgado said throughout the rest of this school year and going into the next, he wants to continue connecting with individual families to learn how to keep them in the district.
“One of the things I’d like to focus on moving forward … is focusing on student retention,” he said. “We have to keep our current kids in our schools.”
This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.
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