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Austin ISD Enrollment Exceeds Projections with Help of Out-of-District Transfers

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
Students from Andrews Elementary School recite the Pledge of Allegiance for the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees.

Austin ISD didn’t see as big of an enrollment dip as they thought they would six weeks into the 2016-2017 school year, but enrollment is still down from last year by 541 students.

The district had help from a new transfer policy, which allows students who live outside the district to transfer into AISD schools with space.  This year, the district received 1,434 out-of-district transfer requests. 802 of those requests came from families who are not employees in AISD.

According to Austin ISD, those requests came from virtually every surrounding school district in Central Texas:

  • 228 requests came from Del Valle ISD families
  • 109 requests came from families who live in Manor ISD
  • 105 requests from Pflugerville ISD
  • 53 came from Round Rock ISD
  • 58 requests came from Hays CISD
  • Families in Eanes, Bastrop, Elgin, Hutto and other areas also submitted requests

“The message is that we’ve exceeded projections and that we have curbed the enrollment changes so we have an increase from the projection,” Superintendent Paul Cruz said at a press conference Wednesday. “I think just comes to some of the policies we put in place and some of the changes we’ve put in place.”
The annual six-week enrollment count shows Austin ISD’s population at 83,238 students, about 548 more than projected for the 2016-2017 school year. These projections were calculated in the fall of 2015 by the district’s Office of Student Services. The projections consider the birth rate and number of families moving in and out of the Austin ISD boundary, as well as additional, long-term projections from Davis Demographics & Planning.

Last school year, Davis Demographics projected Austin ISD would lose seven percent of its population by 2025. Austin ISD says it also considers out-of-district transfers in its projections, a policy that's resulted in enrollment growth.

"That policy change has resulted in growth and is an indicator that parents who do not live in the AISD boundaries find our programs and academic offerings to be the premier choice for their students," said Reyne Telles, executive director of communications and community engagement.

But an increase from projected enrollment doesn't mean Austin ISD's enrollment problems are solved.

Without the 802 students from outside the district, the student population would be below projections, but, still, it's difficult to point to exactly what caused the district to exceed these projections.

While students outside Austin ISD may be attracted to the district’s program and course offerings, it’s unclear if students living within the school district feel the same way. Charter schools continue to open throughout East Austin and the city continues to get less affordable for many families.  

The district points to its new marketing campaign as one reason it exceeded enrollment projections. The campaign targeted 30 neighborhood schools with either declining enrollment, schools at or below 75 percent capacity, or if there are nearby housing changes, like their apartment complexes being torn down or rebuilt.

But just two of the five high schools targeted saw an increase in students from the same point last year. Reagan, LBJ and Eastside Memorial saw declines, while Travis and Crockett high schools saw increases. Half of the eight middle schools targeted saw increases from last year.

Out-of-district transfers do not pay taxes to Austin ISD, but the state money allocated per child does essentially follow the student. Since Austin ISD sends hundreds of millions of dollars back to the state under the state's school finance system, known as "recapture," these out of district transfer students effectively lower the district’s recapture payment, but the amount is minimal. 

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