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Low enrollment numbers reported at Central Texas school districts; thousands of pre-K and kindergarten students missing

Austin ISD and Round Rock ISD are struggling to get younger grades to enroll in schools.

AUSTIN, Texas — Fewer students are enrolling in Central Texas school districts, and school leaders said it could lead to a number of issues. If students don't start enrolling in Austin ISD,  AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said this could impact school funding, kids could fall behind and it could also put teacher and staff positions at risk.

"Our goal right now is to work to recoup as many of these students as we can prior to the end of October, if at all possible," said Elizalde. "It is a concern because we definitely want to always be able to serve our students." 

Initial AISD enrollment numbers show the district expected more than 11,000 students at the start of the school year, but instead had about 7,500 students enrolled. Dr. Elizalde said parents might be waiting for in-person learning, they might wait until next year to enroll or families are homeschooling. 

"Many of our parents are really not seeing the benefits from doing and being enrolled in a virtual setting," said Elizalde. "We all know that the pre-K and kindergarten areas are least successful in a virtual setting."

Elizalde said the other grades seem to be doing well in enrollment, but they're encouraging parents to realize the benefits of enrolling pre-K and kindergarten students. Elizalde said when students go to AISD schools, they're almost always on or above their grade level. 

"That means that those that aren't coming to us, we will absolutely need to see what kind of supports that they're going to need," said Elizalde. "I think it it just challenges us to ensure we have a plan that will work to make up for the time that may be lost during this year of the pandemic."

Round Rock ISD Director of Title I and Pre-K Margo Vogelpohl said it's an issue at their school district, too. 

"We are still trending lower than we have in the past," said Vogelpohl.

Round Rock ISD is down by 220 pre-K students this year – a 24% decrease from 2019 – but Vogelpohl said she's hopeful numbers will go up when parents see RRISD's COVID-19 safety measures. 

"I'm happy to say that I feel like families, as they see, as we opened our doors for face-to-face instruction, as they start to see kind of the protocols that we're doing to support them, as they're starting to see that we are keeping their children safe and that we have a plan in place," said Vogelpohl. "We're not only just trying to meet academic needs, like I said, but also social and emotional needs."

Vogelpohl said, right now, they're offering in-person and virtual learning for families and, in some cases, they're giving families take-home packets. 

"They're staying on track with what's expected. They just may not be getting on the camera," said Vogelpohl. "We all expected that there'd be a slight decline just due to the fact of the unknown."

Vogelpohl explained pre-K and kindergarten are not mandatory in the state of Texas, so that could be another reason why parents decided to keep kids out of school this year. 

"We're still lower than projected enrollment. We continue every week. We have not plateaued. So, every week, our enrollment continues to steadily increase," said Vogelpohl. "I would venture to say that our enrollment will continue to grow. I don't know if we'll reach the exact numbers that we have. Only that time will tell."

Vogelpohl said they want kids in school, not only for school funding but because of the importance of early childhood. 

"Socialization, learning to work with others, learning how to test, to learn within a structure," said Vogelpohl. "Wo, we continue to do our work every day. We come to work. We welcome our kids. We welcome our families."

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