Central Texas preschool enrollment drops 29% during the pandemic

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Beginning Monday and for the first time ever, all of the school districts in Central Texas are promoting Pre-K registration the same week.

It’s a showing of unity in direct response to a massive drop in enrollment in our area.

According to the E3 Alliance, there was an astounding 29% drop in enrollment across all of Central Texas for preschoolers this past year, far and away the most of any grade level. Educators know that is a big deal considering 90% of a child’s brain develops before the age of 5.

“This is one of the most critical times in their development and getting them ready for learning for the rest of their life,” said Ami Cortes-Castillo, director of Early Childhood for the Austin Independent School District. “We really wanted to send out a message to our community, regionwide, that Pre-K enrollment is important and that we are all here to serve our communities and their students, no matter what district they are enrolling in.”

Overall, approximately 3% of students in Central Texas unenrolled. Behind preschool, Kindergarten had the next highest at 8%. All elementary grades, as well as 6th grade, saw drops in enrollment between 2% and 5%. Most middle and high school grades saw a small uptick in enrollment this school year, with the exception being 9th grade.

Austin ISD is even conducting a block walk this weekend to reconnect with families. Beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday, teachers, staff and community volunteers will be going door-to-door, sharing information with families about programs the districts offer.

AISD is focusing on the northeast corridor of the district, which includes around eight different elementary, middle and high schools. They are also sharing the COVID-19 safety precautions that are in place districtwide, including physical distancing and frequent hygiene maintenance.

“We are open, our schools are safe and we are ready for our families to re-engage and come back and enroll in our Pre-K, early learning programs and kindergarten programs,” Cortes-Castillo said.

Parents like Carolina Gonzalez are also doing their part to encourage other families to re-enroll their children. Her 3-year-old began preschool at the Uphaus Early Childhood Center this year.

“He is always very happy to be at school,” Gonzalez said. “Everyday when he gets out, he shares with me what he has done.”

Gonzalez said she could relate to the families who were nervous about sending their little ones to campus during the pandemic. Data shows approximately 2% of Hispanic families unenrolled this year. She wanted to encourage them to come back to their public schools.

“I think the pandemic has caused many families to keep their children home. But it makes me proud that I made the decision to send our son to school,” Gonzalez said. “I want to encourage parents to send their kids to school. It is never too early for them to learn.”

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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