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Local school districts dealing with historic enrollment decline

"It's a major impact to our funding and it does affect our ability to staff," North East ISD's Alex Vardell told KENS 5 Tuesday.

SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio educators are trying to determine where thousands of students who are no longer enrolled in local public schools are now learning. 

Districts across the nation face an historic enrollment decline, only exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Texas uses enrollment numbers to determine how it allocates dollars for teachers, classrooms, and books.  

"It's a major impact to our funding," said Alex Vardell, North East ISD's director of research and planning. "It does affect our ability to staff." 

NEISD is not the only district hemorrhaging students. An Express News investigation found at least ten school districts in Bexar County suffered dramatic enrollment drops over the last three years. 

In that time frame, NEISD lost more students than any other local district that submitted data to the paper. 

All districts combined, area enrollment dropped by as many as 15,000 students from 2018 to 2021. 

"The situations as to why these students are not in our schools vary," a Harlandale ISD spokesperson told KENS 5. 

"Some students have moved out of our city, out of state and some even out of the country. Some of our students are still at home, while others have moved to other schools," she continued. "Unfortunately, there are some students that we don't know where they went, despite our efforts of contacting them and reaching out to their families and guardians."

Other districts offered similar explanations, and administrators from three different San Antonio school districts said there's no single reason for the sharp decline. 

"Like many districts across the country, NISD has also seen fluctuation in enrollment as a result of the pandemic," a Northside ISD spokesperson said.  "District staff are working daily to re-engage and re-connect students and families with their school communities."

Vardell noted that parents have more education options than ever. Parents can enroll their children in online K-12 schools, funded by private companies that are allowed to educate virtually in ways Texas public schools are not. 

He lamented a 'duplication of services' that may cost public schools resources. 

"We have highly-rated schools and we're adding extra options that don't necessarily seem necessary," he said. 

NEISD's enrollment has dropped for nine consecutive years. The neighborhoods the school district serves are maturing, Vardell said, meaning more parents are becoming empty-nesters. 

But the recent declines have been uniquely sharp, as is the case for all local districts. 

"The pandemic stab, I think, is done," Vardell said. "It's not a fun indicator to look at, but we still absolutely focus on the students we do have."

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