In the last decade, more school options have become available for parents deciding where to send their children to be educated. New private and charter schools have opened in Georgetown and other suburbs north of Austin, and homeschooling is becoming more widespread.

Local district officials said the resulting exodus of students from public schools is causing funding challenges.

“In the era of increased conversations on school choice, we as a district are also operating as if we are a choice for families,” Georgetown ISD Superintendent Devin Padavil said.

The overview

Community Impact analyzed data from the Texas Education Agency and GISD showing students transferring out of the district are overwhelmingly choosing charter schools.

In the last decade, four charter schools opened in the suburbs north of Austin. Additionally, a Harmony Public Schools campus is under construction near Georgetown. These join the previously established Meridian World School and Gateway College Preparatory School.

TEA transfer data shows 10% of students enrolled in Georgetown ISD in the 2022-23 school year left the district for charter schools or a different district. This data also shows over 500 of those students are now enrolled at Gateway College Preparatory Academy.

New private schools and homeschooling groups have been formed in recent years to meet the needs of parents and students looking for something public school does not offer.

U.S. Census Bureau data shows 19,675 school-aged children live within Georgetown ISD’s boundaries. The district’s enrollment for the 2022-2023 school year was 13,155, which means the district captured about 66% of possible students in the area. Though no agency tracks students who go to private schools or homeschool, data shows about 5,000 area children are choosing these options.

Dana Martin, whose children previously attended Georgetown ISD schools, chose to enroll them at Goodwater Montessori, where she says her older son is thriving.

“​​How can you be testing so low, but so bored and not being challenged?” Martin said of her child’s experience in public school. “He wasn’t getting his needs met at all either.”

By the numbers

With recent growth in the area population, enrollment for GISD is projected to increase by 4% in the upcoming school year. However, for much of the past decade, enrollment stayed below 12,000 students, exceeding 13,000 in the 2022-23 school year. From the 2012-13 to 2022-23 school years, the number of students leaving for charter schools and other independent school districts grew by 73%, TEA data shows.

GISD saw the number of students leaving the district grow from 892 in the 2012-13 school year to 1,546 in the 2022-23 school year, while enrollment grew by about 3,000 students over the past 10 years.

Many of these students attend area charter schools, such as Gateway College Preparatory School and Meridian World School, TEA data shows.

Why it matters

Families are enrolling their children in charter and private schools for a variety of reasons.

Sarah Gardner, director of community engagement for Meridian World School, said the charter school offers a smaller environment for students to enjoy many of the same opportunities they would have at a traditional public school, with the added benefit of cross-grade-level interaction.

Georgetown Christian Academy Principal Jeff Roberton said smaller class sizes are a primary benefit of private schools. For families who want to see their faith centralized in their children’s upbringing, a religious school can also integrate these aspects into their educational journey, he said.

Roberton said the Christian school, which has an enrollment of about 80 students, will expand to offer two classrooms per grade level.

“Enrollment is open, but the point is to still stay small and intentional with our families,” Roberton said.

Bob Templeton, a demographer with Templeton Demographics—also known as Zonda Education—said in compiling projections, he has observed a sharp increase in homeschooling, largely due to convenience.

“The charter expansion is definitely at play,” Templeton said. “But we saw a surge of homeschooling that is a little harder to quantify.”

Driving decisions
  • Smaller class sizes: Some parents prefer students have more one-on-one attention.
  • Special programming: Some parents chose schools with career development programs.
  • Religious affiliation: Some parents wanted to keep a religious aspect to education.
“Enrollment is open, but the point is to still stay small and intentional with our families,” Roberton said.

Going forward

On a year-to-year basis, enrollment can impact many decisions made by school leaders, GISD Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Hanna said.

While projections show the district would have received $8.7 million in estimated basic allotment funding for the 1,546 students who transferred out of the district in the 2022-23 school year, Padavil said that funding would be somewhat offset by the cost of additional staff and resources for those students. However, it could have helped to shrink the $9.9 million budget shortfall for that year.

As the district works to retain students and remain a primary choice for new families moving to the area, Padavil said one challenge of competing with charter schools is marketing.

“Charter schools are very good at selling themselves,” Padavil said.

Padavil, who was hired as the district’s superintendent in September, said GISD’s focus in working to attract students moving to the area will be ensuring the community is aware of the opportunities it provides. For example, through the district’s Future Ready Learning Center set to open in August, students will have expanded opportunities for career and technical education.

“I really believe the experiences kids have in public school help them learn at high levels and provide diverse opportunities,” he said. “It also helps them relate to every different child in our community.”