New federal numbers put Fort Worth ISD’s enrollment decline in a new light.

Across the nation, public schools lost more than 1 million students between fall 2019 and fall 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Education. A Wall Street Journal analysis of the largest school districts found Fort Worth ISD is among four systems that lost about 10% of their enrollment in the past three years.

The other districts? New York City, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Between fall 2019 and fall 2021, Fort Worth ISD lost 8,041 students, according to data from the Texas Education Agency. 

Fort Worth ISD spokesperson Claudia Garibay declined to comment.

Recent enrollment declines across the nation can be partly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, school finance experts previously told the Fort Worth Report the drops also can be pinned on lower birth rates, fewer immigrants, demographic shifts, an aging American population and increased competition from charter schools.

School board President Tobi Jackson pointed to Fort Worth ISD having more programming choices, such as career-focused classes, as why more families should enroll in the district than in non-traditional public schools. However, she wants to find out why the district’s enrollment is down.

“It’s always important to look at the reasons people stay, the reasons people leave and, most importantly, to listen to our student and parent voices and determine what their needs are to make sure we’re always meeting those needs,” Jackson told the Fort Worth Report.

Enrollment in Fort Worth ISD hit a high of 87,428 students in 2016, but that number has been trending downward ever since.

More than six years later, the district has lost nearly one in five students, according to a Fort Worth Report analysis.

The district has been tight lipped on enrollment for the current school year. However, TEA is expected this spring to release official enrollment figures for Fort Worth ISD and other districts.

In August, Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, Fort Worth ISD’s chief financial officer, told the school board enrollment figures were coming in below her projection of 72,981 students.

Administrators have directed residents to file open records requests to find out enrollment figures. 

Enrollment is an important figure for school districts because it plays a role in determining how much funding districts receive from the state. Districts receive state dollars based on their average daily attendance. A declining enrollment means fewer dollars from the state.

In its current budget, Fort Worth ISD estimates around 87.1% of its projected enrollment will attend classes every day. That would mean on any given day 63,764 students are expected to be in class.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob SanchezEnterprise Reporter

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University....