ISD Aims to Make Best of Declining Enrollment

School hallway | Image by Monkey Business Images

As student enrollment numbers drop across the region, Fort Worth Independent School District is betting on turning lemons into lemonade.

Fort Worth has seen considerable population growth over the past decade, yet this 21% rise has occurred paradoxically alongside a 16% enrollment drop in its public schools. In response to this decline, Fort Worth ISD has ordered a $2 million capacity study using taxpayer money to evaluate each of its campuses, which currently hold 71,066 students despite being designed to accommodate up to 90,000 students.

As many as 48 schools — a large number of them elementary schools — are currently below 70% capacity, making them likely candidates for closure or relocation, as previously covered in The Dallas Express. An update on the facility assessment will be given at the school board meeting on January 30.

“Looking at the schools that have lower enrollment, it’s just like any business; we need to assess that,” explained Andrea Arabie, vice president of advocacy for the Fort Worth ISD Council of PTAs, according to NBC 5 DFW. “And if this isn’t working, we reevaluate, and we do better.”

She suggested that while students’ parents have been critical of the district in the past, there have been several positive changes of late. She claimed that by rightsizing campuses and freeing up space in the district’s budget — which saw an $80 million budget deficit earlier this year — a rebound is possible.

“It’s an opportunity for growth; it’s an opportunity to change and turn things around to what this population needs,” said Arabie. “And I do not see it as a setback; I see it as an opportunity.”

Yet some parents, such as Hollie Plemons, who removed her children from the district, might be tough to lure back.

“Fort Worth is a booming city, and so our population in our schools should be growing, but they’re not,” Plemons said, according to NBC 5. “Because parents do not want what Fort Worth ISD is selling.”

Although Fort Worth ISD isn’t alone in seeing declining student enrollment figures amid demographic changes and rising housing costs across the North Texas region, it has seen considerably poor student academic results.

According to the 2021-2022 Texas Education Agency accountability report, Fort Worth ISD saw just 32% of its students score at grade level on the STAAR, and its on-time graduation rate was 85.7%. For comparison, Dallas ISD, a school system also rocked by budget issues, safety concerns, and falling student enrollment, saw only 41% of its students score at grade level on the same STAAR exam. Even worse, almost 20% of the district’s seniors did not graduate on time.

Noting that Fort Worth ISD’s lackluster academic assessments and other issues have not gone unnoticed by parents, Plemons said they “are looking for other options.”

Other options are readily available in Fort Worth, which has contributed to the depletion of the student body at Fort Worth ISD. This is especially true of charter schools.

“I know that the charter schools in our area are also building right within neighborhoods, so you have a new neighborhood school, but it’s not necessarily a public school,” Arabie said.

As recently reported in The Dallas Express, a new $23 million campus is in the works near Jim Wright Freeway under the initiative of IDEA Public Schools. It will be the fifth school opened by the group in Fort Worth in the past five years, currently serving approximately 4,000 students.

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