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Houston-area school districts report enrollment drop of nearly 40,000 students

Districts particularly concerned about noticeable drop in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students.

HOUSTON — Many Houston-area school districts are facing significant declines in enrollment as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt public education like never before.

Sixteen of the area’s 20 largest school districts report fewer students enrolled this year, according to a KHOU 11 analysis of data submitted to the Texas Education Agency

Collectively, those districts are down 38,766 students.

The question is: Where have they gone?

“I think that’s what everyone is trying to figure out right now,” said Duncan Klussmann, a University of Houston education professor and former superintendent and Spring Branch ISD. “Some students can be homeschooled, so that could be a factor. There could be some students in private settings. And there’s going to be a certain percent of students who just are not enrolling at all.”

The average enrollment decline is 2,533 students at Aldine ISD, Alief ISD, Alvin ISD, Clear Creek ISD, Conroe ISD, Cy-Fair ISD, Fort Bend ISD, Galena Park ISD, Houston ISD, Humble ISD, Katy ISD, Klein ISD, Lamar CISD, New Caney ISD, Pasadena ISD, Pearland ISD, Spring ISD, Spring Branch ISD and Tomball ISD.

Houston ISD tops all districts with 14,944 fewer students enrolled, according to the TEA data.

“We’re still trying to locate those students, provide them with the necessary resources so they can definitely re-enroll,” said HISD Interim Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan.

Alief ISD has the largest percentage decrease at 8.9 percent, with 4,018 fewer students enrolled this school year.

“It’s concerning, it’s very concerning,” said Alief Superintendent HD Chambers.

He said of particular concern is the noticeable drop in students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.

“It's so difficult to have a four-year-old or a five-year-old or a six-year-old sit in front of a computer monitor and try to learn virtually,” Chambers said. “So they become frustrated with that.”

Because Texas schools are funded on a per-pupil basis, the financial outlook for many districts is bleak. 

The Texas Education Agency has only guaranteed full funding to districts, regardless of changes to enrollment or attendance rates due to the pandemic, for the fall semester. The state agency has not committed to extending that cushion beyond the new year.

"If nothing changes from here on out, then in Alief ISD we’ll see anywhere from a $25-$40 million revenue cut,” Chambers said. “The students are going to lose, staff members are going to lose, teachers are going to lose.”