COVID-19 could impact enrollments, budgets as districts prepare for new school year

HOUSTON – As school districts finalize their plans for the new school year which, for most students, starts in roughly two months, some parents have already made up their minds. Their kids won’t be going back.

Homeschooling on the rise

“I think if I am going to have distance learning, I want to be able to pick the curriculum," said Jennifer Benedict, a mother who is already homeschooling her two kids. When the pandemic pushed them into distance learning, Benedict said she found it was much easier and rewarding to do it herself.

“If we were just to do phonics math, a little bit of history, it really doesn’t take any time,” she said.

Channel 2 Investigates polled school districts across our area, and we didn’t find a huge exodus of students yet. In fact, most districts are maintaining or increasing enrollment. But that could change once districts announce their final plans for the new school year.

“It’s more health and safety concerns,” said Bob Popinski, Executive Director of Raise Your Hands Texas. “What we’re seeing is there’s not a lot of education and stability out there right now."

State spending per student

The bottom line is there are clear pockets of uncertainty, if not discontent, with institutional education, whether it’s ineffective distance learning or COVID-19 concerns in the classroom. Ultimately it could have a disastrous impact on school budgets.

“When it’s all said and done, about a five-percent reduction in enrollment or average daily attendance could mean a five-percent reduction in a school district’s budget," Popinski said.

The state of Texas spends an average of $6,000 per student, so if you lose too many, some programs and teaching positions may be in jeopardy.

“The operation of the schools is what the districts will lose if the kids start not showing up,” Popinski said.

The Texas Education Agency is expected to release its final guidance on how schools should reopen during the pandemic, then the districts will release their plans based on that guidance. That’s when districts expect parents to decide whether to keep their children enrolled or not.

School snapshots

Channel 2 Investigates reached out to districts throughout the Houston area for their enrollment numbers. Here’s a look at those that responded. Houston ISD tells us they are working on a response.

  • Aldine ISD - 2019-20 enrollment was 66,962 and the district doesn’t expect a drop in 2020-21.
  • Barbers Hill ISD - 2019-20 enrollment was 6,231 and the district expects an increase to 6,700 in 2020-21.
  • Cy-Fair ISD - 2019-20 enrollment was 117,446 and, at this time, it’s expected to increase to 118,498 in 2020-21.
  • Dickinson ISD - 2019-20 enrollment was 11,618 and, at this time, it’s expected to increase slightly in 2020-21.
  • Friendswood ISD - 2019-20 enrollment was 6,202 and the district doesn’t expect a substantial drop in 2020-21.
  • Galveston ISD - 2019-20 enrollment was 7,000 and the district doesn’t have a figure for 2020-21 at this time.
  • Santa Fe ISD - 2019-20 enrollment was 4,533 and the district doesn’t expect a drop in 2020-21.
  • Sheldon ISD - 2019-20 enrollment was 10,120 and the district says it’s difficult to project 2020-21 at this time.
  • Texas City ISD - 2019-20 enrollment was 8,451 and the district expects a very slight decrease in 2020-21.
  • Vidor ISD - 2019-20 enrollment was 4,364 and the district doesn’t have any projects yet for 2020-21.

Channel 2 Investigate will continue to update this list as we get more responses.