By APRIL GARNER, Four Points News
Leander ISD has one of the most rapidly expanding student populations in Texas. It ranks first in the Austin metro area and number seven in the fastest-growing large school districts in the state, according to the LISD 2020 Demographic Summary.
From fall 2014 to fall 2019, the district added a net of 6,520 new students. The rapid growth, evident in new school openings and housing developments, is no secret. That growth, however, stalled during the 2020-2021 school year and the question remains how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect enrollment and growth this school year.
LISD as a fast-growing district
LISD’s latest demographics report shows hundreds to thousands of new students enrolling in the district, starting in the early 1990s. Those numbers peak around 2006-2009, with 2,000-2,250 new students enrolling in the district each year.
Though numbers of new enrollees have dropped off in recent years, LISD’s student population has continued to grow, with the 2018-2019 school year showing a new surge from the previous two years.
The demographics study also indicates that historically, from 1991 to 2010, elementary schools showed the most growth. Now, their rate of population increase has lagged behind growth in both high schools and middle schools. One reason behind the trend is that families are staying in their homes longer and aging along with their children.
Pandemic impact on enrollment
The 2020-2021 school year brought not only a slowing in growth but a significant decrease in enrollment.
LISD had approximately 750 fewer students last school year than in the previous school year — 2,200 fewer students than projected. Other large Texas districts such as Frisco, Klein, Katy, and Cy-Fair ISDs have seen similar losses.
PASA (Population and Survey Analysts), who conducted the 2020 Demographic Study for LISD, assumes this unanticipated low enrollment derives from families’ “largely intentional decisions based on health and safety.”
According to LISD’s communications coordinator, Matt Mitchell, “We know we had students in 2019-20 who did not return to our schools. They are here, just never enrolled. Declining enrollment this past year is a state and national trend.” He said that a survey shows area charter and private schools did not have a large influx of students, indicating that families did not leave LISD to opt for those alternatives.
Enrollment recovery in coming years
Despite the unexpected drop in enrollment and departure from anticipated growth last school year, LISD’s population will likely rebound. Because safety concerns over the COVID pandemic are the widely-accepted cause, PASA projected 90 percent of the students who left would return this 2021-2022 school year.
But that hasn’t happened.
“What I do know is that we have seen enrollment growth relative to last year,” said Mitchell on Tuesday. Superintendent Bruce Gearing was scheduled to give an update at the Sept. 9 board meeting.
“Our next demographer’s report comes out in October,” Mitchell said. “We’re still seeing lag in our youngest learners (Pk-2nd) and we believe that’s once again due to the pandemic (Delta variant) much like the original Alpha variant did a year ago.”
Based on home sales data, the LISD demographer indicated that it’s been the pandemic that has been affecting lower enrollment numbers, Mitchell said.