Austin ISD updates: District enrollment could rebound next year; special education evaluations being prioritized

Chief Academic Officer Elizabeth Cases updated Austin ISD trustees on pending special education evaluations March 11. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Chief Academic Officer Elizabeth Cases updated Austin ISD trustees on pending special education evaluations March 11. (Courtesy Austin ISD)

Chief Academic Officer Elizabeth Cases updated Austin ISD trustees on pending special education evaluations March 11. (Courtesy Austin ISD)

Austin ISD trustees met March 11 for the district's monthly board workshop and information session. Here are the latest updates from the district.

District enrollment could rise in 2021-22 school year

Austin ISD could see an enrollment bump in 2021, followed by a slow decline in enrollment over the next decade, according to a demographic report presented to the district March 11.

According to the district, AISD saw a 7.2% decline in students this year as compared to 2019-20 numbers, with an enrollment 5,815 students lower than in the previous year. Operations Officer Matias Segura said changes to elementary school and pre-K enrollment made up 40.8% of this year’s decline as parents looked for other options during the ongoing pandemic.

However, he said demographic projections indicate that the district will rebound next year, with an estimated 1,973 students added.

"We're expected to see a 2.6% increase next year," Segura said. "We think much of this is going to be attributed to families welcoming back their students into our communities and our campuses [after the pandemic], and we're really excited about supporting them in the coming year."

After peaking at 77,048 students in 2021-22, the district's enrollment is projected gradually drop down to 74,431 students over the following nine years, according to the report.

Beth Wilson, executive director of planning and asset management, said some of the projected declines as well as those that have been seen in the district since 2015 are attributed to the growth of public charter schools in the area. She said there are currently 16,440 students who live within AISD boundaries but attend either a charter school or a school in a neighboring school district. More than 14,000 of those attend charter schools, which represents an increase of about 5,300 students over the past five years.

However, the impact of charter schools on AISD enrollment has been mitigated slightly by an increase in transfer students from outside of AISD. Wilson said that in the 2020-21 school year, about 2,300 students transferred into AISD from neighboring districts, as compared to 540 such students in the 2014-15 school year.

District continues to work through special education evaluations

AISD provides special education services to 10,256 students. The district is working through a backlog of evaluation requests from parents who hope to add their students to that list.

Chief Academic Officer Elizabeth Cases told trustees March 11 that the backlog was caused by a recent transition in leadership for the special education department as well by restrictions created for the COVID-19 pandemic and staffing vacancies.

“When the pandemic hit, schools closed for all face to face instruction and evaluations. This pause was to ensure the safety of all of our staff,” she said.

According to Cases’ presentation, the district has received 437 new referrals for special education evaluations this school year and has 958 evaluations that are pending or in progress. The district has also initiated services for 432 students who have completed evaluations this year.

Cases said evaluations are being prioritized based on how long they have been in the review process. The district is working to get the evaluations completed by the end of the year and is planning to bring in additional contracted services and conduct Saturday workdays to help. The district is also looking at partnering with area universities to create a pipeline of future diagnosticians and licensed specialists in school psychology, she said.

“We have a plan,” Cases said. “We're going to work together, and we're going to make it happen to make sure all of our students are evaluated and they see services.”
By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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