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Austin schools opening up to out-of-district transfers

Austin American-Statesman
February 4, 2015

By Julie Chang

Hoping to curb enrollment drops that lead to less funding from the state, the Austin school board is now welcoming students who live elsewhere to transfer to many of its campuses.

So far, there have been relatively few takers — a month after making the change, the district has received 15 out-of-district transfer requests for the 2015-2016 school year.

The district hadn’t formally announced the change until now.

“We’re looking for creative ways to generate income for the district because we are operating under a state financial system that is not adequate,” said Gina Hinojosa, the school board president.

Currently, 84,428 students attend the Austin school district, which has lost 2,000 students in the past two years — the only back-to-back slip in its enrollment in at least 20 years. The district is expected to lose 4,000 more students over the next decade, which could mean millions lost in state funding.

The high cost of housing in Austin has played a big role in enrollment declines, causing more families with children to move to the suburbs. Low birth rates during the recession are also a factor.

In the past, the district allowed out-of-district students to transfer in for some academic programs, but many of them were charged tuition and few students participated, district officials said.

Now outside students are welcome to transfer to any school that’s not frozen to general transfers, and most will not be charged tuition, officials say.

“We do have strong academic programs in our schools. We do have available space in our campuses and we do offer unique programs,” Superintendent Paul Cruz said.

Transportation will not be provided for out-of-district transfers. And out-of-district transfer students will only be asked to pay tuition if the cost of educating them proves to be more than the district receives from the state, officials say. In 2013, the district said that it earned $7,400 in state funding per student.

Children of district employees can transfer into the district free of charge.

Austin looked to neighboring Eanes to help craft its policy. Eanes has for more than a decade enrolled students who don’t live in the district. The school district recently determined that eliminating its 437 out-of-district transfer students would cost the district about a million dollars in net earnings.

The Austin school district will freeze 23 schools to general and out-of-district transfers in the 2015-16 school year because of concerns of potential overcrowding.
The frozen list:

High schools: Akins, Anderson and Bowie
Middle schools: Burnet, Gorzycki and Murchison
Elementary schools: Baldwin, Baranoff, Blazier, Brentwood, Casis, Clayton, Cowan, Doss, Graham, Gullett (grades 1, 3, 4 and 5), Highland Park, Hill, Kiker, Lee (grades four and five), Menchaca, Pickle and Wooten elementary schools.