Over the past decade, a growing number of students have transferred out of Leander ISD as several charter school districts expand their footprint in the Cedar Park, Leander and North Austin area.

The growth of charter school options has contributed to a slowing of the district’s overall enrollment growth. District data shows many families have also left the district to attend private schools and pursue homeschooling options.

Because Texas school districts are funded based on student attendance, LISD has lost millions in state funding as the number of students transferring out of the district increases. Some parents and experts say more families are exploring other educational options as they may better meet their students’ needs.

The overview

Community Impact analyzed data from the Texas Education Agency and LISD, which showed families are increasingly choosing to enroll their students in charter schools as options expand.

Since 2019, six charter schools opened in the area—including Valor Leander, Basis Cedar Park and new Harmony Public Schools campuses—pulling thousands of students out of the district, according to data from LISD demographer Population and Survey Analysts. Over the next five years, four new charter schools and one charter school expansion planned within the district’s boundaries are expected to pull additional students, PASA data shows.

About 7.5% of students in the district transferred to charter schools or other public school districts in the 2023-24 school year compared to 3.4% in the 2013-14 school year. While the district’s enrollment continues to grow, students are transferring out of the district at a faster rate.

Many private school and homeschooling options also exist. According to 2022 census data, about 55,000 school-age children lived within LISD’s boundaries with 42,415 children enrolled in the district in 2022-23. Although no state agency tracks enrollment for private schools and homeschooling, data analyzed by Community Impact shows almost 10,000 students residing in LISD were choosing these options.

Parent Amanda Alvizo said she pulled her son who has cystic fibrosis out of LISD to homeschool during the pandemic. Her son now attends Great Hearts Online, a charter school where he can take advanced courses virtually and complete self-led work.

“[Great Hearts] has been able to accommodate his theory and grade-level abilities,” Alvizo said.

By the numbers

LISD’s enrollment growth is starting to slow due in part to the opening of more charter schools in the district’s boundaries, PASA President Stacey Tepera said in an October demographic update.

In the 2013-14 school year, 1,187 students transferred out of LISD to charter schools and other districts. By the 2023-24 school year, that number grew to 3,216—a 171% increase. During that time, LISD enrollment increased by 20%.

Other nearby districts are also seeing students leaving at a faster rate than their enrollment growth. In Round Rock ISD, 3,053 students left in the 2013-14 school year compared to 5,634 in the 2023-24 school year while enrollment has declined in recent years.

In 2019, Liberty Hill ISD began seeing more students transferring out of the district than transferring in due to a change in policy, Superintendent Steven Snell said. However, LHISD has been largely unaffected by the increase in transfers out as its enrollment is growing rapidly, he said.

What it means

This school year, 681 students transferred out of LISD to attend Harmony Public Schools. The charter school district focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, and provides personalized support for students while offering many opportunities found at larger schools, said Amy Chankin, assistant area superintendent of programs.

“We also have some autonomy when it comes to what we teach and how we teach,” Chankin said.

Scott Mac Leod, head of school at Summit Christian Academy, said the Cedar Park private school is an appealing option for families seeking high academic standards free from state requirements, such as standardized testing.

Private schools allow parents to have greater control over their children's education when school districts “may not necessarily share their same values or see the world the way they do,” he said.

Austin’s expansive homeschooling community is continuing to grow, adding hybrid homeschooling programs and co-ops, Teri Sperry, an education consultant with Alt Ed Austin said. Many families choose alternative education options, such as microschools, when their children's needs cannot be met at a traditional public school, she said.

Alvizo said Great Hearts' classical model is best suited to meet her son’s learning needs while the online format provides her family more flexibility.

Driving decisions
  • Smaller class sizes with individualized attention from teachers
  • Special programming such as STEM-focused, classical or religious curriculum
  • Parental involvement including educators having more autonomy over what and how they teach
“It's a positive thing for a community to have a healthy and diverse ecosystem of educational options,” Sperry said.

Going forward

LISD is expected to receive $6.7 million less in revenue from the state this school year due to student enrollment being lower than projected, according to district documents.

Data shows if all students who transferred out of LISD in 2023-24 attended district schools, LISD would receive $17.9 million more in funding, but Chief Financial Officer Pete Pape said the number could be millions of dollars higher when factoring in weighted average daily attendance.

Any additional funding gained from more students returning to the districts would be somewhat offset by costs incurred to hire staff; however, some of the funding could go toward student programs and services, Pape said.

Beyond budgetary impacts, Superintendent Bruce Gearing said district officials are most concerned about why students are choosing other options over LISD. Gearing said he believes there has been a attack on public education from state lawmakers who pushed sending taxpayer dollars to private schools last year.

Moving forward, the district will seek to provide students with opportunities that are equitable to other educational options in the area—something public schools aren't yet doing as well as they could, Gearing said.

“Our offering has to be as good or better than any other offering that exists out there so that people really want to come to public school,” Gearing said. “That is our job. That is our responsibility.”