AISD Falls Far Short of Enrollment Goals
Though downward trend slows, district facing budget crunch
For almost a decade, Austin Independent School District has seen its student population decline, and this year has continued the trend despite the district's concerted efforts over the summer to boost enrollment. This year, only 74,727 students were enrolled in AISD for the school year that began in August, down from 75,075 in 2020-21, according to data released last week. That decline is far less than AISD has seen in years past, indicating that the district may have successfully stopped the enrollment tailspin prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. (The district lost more than 4,000 students over the summer of 2020.)
But underlying factors continue to make it hard for AISD to attract and retain students. A 2016 AISD report forecasting the next decade's student populations predicted that AISD, which at the time had more than 83,000 students, would see enrollment dip below 80,000 in 2021. The school shutdowns, concerns about the efficacy of online learning, and subsequent dropouts spurred by the pandemic contributed to a massive, unanticipated acceleration of that decline, but the causes foreseen in 2016 hold true: "Lower birth rates combined with the lack of affordable housing will have a negative impact on projected growth at the lower grades [that will] lower projected numbers for the higher grades towards the end of the ten-year period."
AISD media relations specialist Eddie Villa told us that this year's enrollment loss reflects families moving to nearby districts with lower costs of living more than it does losses to private or charter schools. Those rising prices continue to affect teachers as well; in the AISD budget approved in June, teacher raises were conditioned upon an enrollment goal of 77,331 students. That budget already dipped into AISD cash reserves to close a $43.6 million deficit, but missing the enrollment goal by more than 2,500 students "results in an additional $18.6 million loss, bringing the district's total deficit to $62.2 million," Villa said.
Villa indicated AISD is "already taking steps to reduce this shortfall in the current budget year, with the goal of ending the year with a balanced budget, [while] positioning ourselves to potentially give a compensation increase next year due to escalating costs of living in the Austin area." This means leaving vacancies unfilled for the time being.