ISD’s Enrollment Decline Fuels ‘Rightsizing’

Fort Worth school | Image by FWISD

Despite Fort Worth’s population growth, the local public school district has seen a steady decline in its enrollment numbers, fueling an initiative to “rightsize” its facilities.

Fort Worth ISD’s campuses have been engineered to fit a student body of up to 90,000, yet only 72,783 students are actually enrolled. This represents a significant drop since 2016, when 87,233 students attended district schools.

In response, the district’s board of trustees on Tuesday night approved allocating $2 million in taxpayer money to a capacity study to identify areas where potential adjustments could be made in light of declining student enrollment.

“Many District facilities are underutilized due to declining student enrollment,” the meeting agenda item read. “A comprehensive study of school capacities in support of a Long-Range Facilities Master Plan will enable the District to continue to address issues related to development, efficiency, and the infrastructure needed to provide optimal learning environments for students.”

The decline of students may appear paradoxical in light of Fort Worth’s population climbing at a rate of over 4% since 2020, making it one of the fastest-growing cities in the state.

Yet declining enrollment is widespread in Texas public school districts, exacerbating budget issues due to its impact on state funding, as previously reported in The Dallas Express.

For instance, Fort Worth ISD had to restructure and cut jobs from some administrative departments earlier this year due to an $80 million budget deficit.

Neighboring Dallas ISD has seen similar struggles, with both districts representing the biggest districts in North Texas. Yet they both have unmistakably poor student outcomes, suggesting that declining enrollment might be partly due to parents homeschooling, relocating to better-performing school districts, or choosing charter alternatives.

At Dallas ISD, only 41% of students scored at grade level on the STAAR exam, and almost 20% of the district’s graduating Class of 2022 did not graduate on time, according to the latest Texas Education Agency accountability report. Meanwhile, Fort Worth ISD saw just 32% of its students score at grade level on the STAAR, though its on-time graduation rate was 85.7% last school year.

The capacity study conducted at Fort Worth ISD will aim to allocate resources to improve student learning opportunities.

Facilities will be rated according to several factors, including educational programming, operating costs, projected enrollment, desirability, building and property condition and capacity, and community use of the facility and history. Using this information, district officials will make recommendations to the board on how best to rightsize assets.

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