Houston ISD saw its steepest enrollment decline this year since the first full school year of the pandemic, losing roughly 6,000 students, according to preliminary data obtained by the Houston Landing.
Some 183,884 students now attend HISD schools, down from 189,934 in 2022-23.
The count has not been vetted by the Texas Education Agency, but was provided to the Landing by HISD in response to a public records request. The number represents the total students present on “snapshot” day, the last Friday in October each year, when Texas school districts tally their official enrollment.
The 3-percent drop in students could spell a reduction in state funding next year at a time when questions already are swirling over HISD’s fiscal future.
The loss of students also increases the likelihood of upcoming school closures and consolidations, a possibility HISD Superintendent Mike Miles already has mentioned.
HISD did not provide comments in response to questions from the Landing.
Texas’ largest district has bled students each of the last four years and lost roughly 32,200 students since 2016-17, when enrollment peaked at about 216,100.
Apart from 2020-21 during the pandemic, this year’s enrollment losses represent the most drastic dropoff in the last 10 years.
The decrease in students likely represents a combination of families relocating to other districts, homeschooling and enrolling in private or charter schools. TEA spokesman Jake Kobersky said his agency has seen anecdotal evidence of more students homeschooling or attending private schools in recent years.
Kobersky wrote in an email that it is “likely too early to tell” whether the TEA’s final enrollment number for HISD, which will be released in several months, will differ significantly from the preliminary snapshot day count obtained by the Landing.
This year’s 183,884 enrollment level is slightly higher than early estimates produced by Miles that about 182,000 students were attending HISD. However, it is typical that snapshot day enrollment would notch above daily attendance levels, because schools make extra efforts to lure students to campus that day.
Whether families’ decisions had to do with the rapid changes to HISD this year under state-appointed leadership remains unknown.
Campus-by-campus enrollment counts for this school year have not yet been released. However, early data reported by the Landing in October showed schools overhauled under Miles’ model saw larger attendance dips to start the school year than other campuses.
Regardless of which campuses saw the steepest student losses, the entire district is likely to feel the fiscal fallout of the enrollment changes. A large portion of HISD’s cash comes from the state, which bases its funding level on the average number of students attending district schools. Texas provides districts $6,160 base funding per student, a rate that has not changed since 2019. The state sends additional dollars to districts based on the number of special education students, English learners and other factors.
A couple things to note. This problem is not unique to Houston – San Antonio and Fort Worth, among others, are facing similar issues. Demography is also part of the problem – there are fewer children in HISD’s geographic area. There are things that HISD can do to try to mitigate some of this, and I know that existing Trustees were at least talking about that. My concern is that I don’t see any evidence of this being on the radar right now. Mike Miles doesn’t care about anything that he doesn’t see as part of his mandate, and the Board of Managers doesn’t do anything outside of what Miles tells them to do. I’ve been concerned that Miles’ policies will drive people out of HISD schools, but even if I’m wrong about that it doesn’t look like Miles and the BoM will pay any attention to this issue, which means that the problem will likely be worse and in a tougher spot to start addressing by the time we get control back. And in the meantime, Miles will get to decide about which schools should be closed or consolidated to accommodate declining attendance. So yeah, not great.