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Enrollment Decline in Austin Public Schools Means Growth in Suburban School Districts

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez
Austin ISD is projected to lose more than 4,000 students over the next 10 years, but school districts in suburban areas outside Austin are projected to see student growth over that time period.

The Austin Independent School District is projected to lose more than 4,000 students over the next 10 years. That's mostly because of lower birth rates, private and charter schools and the increasingly lack of affordable housing in Austin, but districts just outside Austin are dealing with the opposite problem.

Ten years ago, Hays CISD, south of Austin, had fewer than 11,000 students. Last year, enrollment was more than 18,000. The growth is one reason Hays CISD is asking voters to approve a bond for another high school this spring. 

“Our total high school population could be approaching 6,000 students by the time that high school would be ready to open in 2019," says district spokesperson Tim Savoy. Savoy says it takes a community to make sure school districts can handle the influx. “The roads have to be able to accommodate the traffic for the schools. You have to have water that goes to those schools. So, it’s really a partnership with cities and the county to accommodate growth that’s coming in.”

Hays CISD is just one of many suburban school districts in Central Texas enrolling more students. It’s a common trend across Texas and the country. As urban centers become more expensive, families look directly outside the city for affordable housing. Savoy says Hays CISD has its fair share of families chasing cheap rent.

“Their parents will be here and work for several months out of the year and then they may go elsewhere and then they may come back," he says. But there are many families from different socioeconomic backgrounds moving to Hays, too. Savoy says one traditionally low-income school in Hays has started to get less federal money because a new subdivision brought more students from higher income families.

North of Austin, Leander ISD is also seeing a mix of students moving to the area – a 16 percent increase between 2010 and 2015. Spokesperson Veronica Sopher says most of that growth is also in upper grades, while kindergarten growth has remained fairly stable.

“As your home prices continue to grow, you’ll see that the families moving into Leander ISD are families who are able to purchase their move-up home or their next great home. The fewer start-up homes you have, the fewer younger students that you’ll have," Sopher says.

Leander ISD is currently building another elementary school to open in August, and the district opened a new high school last year, using money from a 2007 bond to pay for the facilities.

Austin ISD projects more than 13,000 housing units will be built in the district over the next decade. But at an AISD board meeting Monday night, the district's Beth Wilson said only a quarter of those planned units are detached single-family homes.

“Three-quarters are what we considered multi-family: apartment units, duplexes, triplexes, and condo units. So, the lion's share is not what we consider this family-friendly model," Wilson told the board.

AISD is currently developing a plan for the future of its school buildings – where it may need to consolidate or close schools and where they need to build new ones. That plan, and the annual demographic report, will help decide what to include in a bond proposition this year. Even though the demographic report only looks at where students in AISD live, not where they attend school, it will inform those future plans. But, Savoy says, sometimes planning ahead is difficult.

“Predicting demographics is similar to predicting the weather," he says. "You can get a good idea of what it’s going to look like next year, and maybe two years out it’s a little less reliable. And the farther out you get it’s less reliable, just like a weather forecast.”

Despite overall declines, Austin ISD does project at least one area will continue to see overcrowding in schools: Northwest Austin.

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