Student numbers slip in San Benito; Schools losing enrollment to IDEA campus

SAN BENITO — The school district continues to lose students to other schools, costing it nearly $2 million in annual state funding.

However, this year’s enrollment declines appear significantly modest compared with a steeper plunge during the 2018 school year.

As of March 6, the district had lost 341 students this school year, dropping its total enrollment to 10,119, compared with 10,460 during the same period last year, according to a district report.

“It is down,” school board member Victor Rosas said. “I have been questioning it.”

Based on a funding formula aimed at helping compensate districts struggling with low tax bases, the state gives the school district about $5,797 for each of its students.

Most of the students are being lost to IDEA Public Schools, one of the fastest-growing charter networks in the United States, and the Harlingen school district, district spokeswoman Isabel Gonzalez stated.

Steeper student loss last year

Last school year, a state report showed a steeper enrollment plunge.

In 2018, 1,288 students transferred to other school districts, according a report released by the Texas Education Agency.

Based on the state’s funding formula, the number of students leaving during that period cost the district about $7.4 million.

During the same period, 332 students transferred into the district from other school districts, with 119 students coming from the Harlingen school district, the TEA report states.

Those incoming students pumped about $1.9 million into the district’s coffers, based on the funding formula.

Of the 1,288 students who transferred out of the district, 794 students left for IDEA Public Schools, which opened its San Benito campus in 2008, according to the TEA report.

“It’s extremely concerning when public schools have to compete with charter schools when we’re not on the same playing field,” school board President Orlando Lopez said. “This is a trend that’s been going on throughout the state. Charter schools and the funding they receive is always a challenge.”

During the same period, 168 students enrolled in the Harlingen school district, the TEA report shows.

Secondary schools

Across the district this year, San Benito High School, Berta Cabaza Middle School and Miller Jordan Middle School were among the hardest-hit secondary campuses, the district’s report shows.

At the high school, 72 students transferred to other schools, dropping enrollment to 1,982 from 2,050 the previous year.

Meanwhile, Berta Cabaza lost 48 students, bringing its enrollment to 807, down from 855 the previous year, while Miller Jordan lost 49 students, dropping its enrollment to 811, compared with 860 last year.

Elementary schools

Among the district’s elementary campuses this year, Rangerville Elementary School lost 64 students, with its enrollment dropping to 295, compared with 359 last year.

At Dr. Raul Garza Jr. STEAM Academy, 44 students transferred to other schools, dropping enrollment to 545 students from 589 last year.

Tracing enrollment decline

In 2013, officials saw the district’s enrollment drop for the first time in four years.

During the 2012-2013 school year, the district lost 233 students, with enrollment dropping from 11,387 to 11,154.

At the time, officials cited student transfers to IDEA Public Schools as the biggest factor behind the drop in enrollment.

IDEA enrollment gains

In 2008, IDEA Public Schools opened its San Benito campus with about 340 students.

During the last five years, the school’s enrollment has increased by about 235 students.

In 2015, the school’s enrollment stood at 1,425, Jennifer Flores, an IDEA spokeswoman, stated.

Last year, enrollment had climbed to 1,660.

2018-2019 student transfers into San Benito schools:

From Brownsville — 73

From Harlingen — 119

From La Feria — 10

From Los Fresnos — 65

From Rio Hondo — 31

Total — 332

2018-2019 student transfers from San Benito schools

To Brownsville — 39

To Harlingen — 168

To IDEA Public Schools — 794

To Horizon Montessori Public Schools — 76

To Jubilee Academies — 40

To Los Fresnos — 29

To MidValley Academy Charter District — 91

Total — 1,288