LA MARQUE — More than 550 students who would have normally attended La Marque schools transferred to neighboring school districts, costing the financially strapped school district about $2.8 million in potential state revenue.
According to records from the four open enrollment school districts in Galveston County that are taking in those La Marque students, the number of transfer students is expected to increase for the 2013-14 school year.
That’s not good news for the La Marque school district, which has struggled for years to get more students in its classrooms.
According to records provided by Texas City, Hitchcock, Dickinson and Galveston school districts, 563 students who live in the La Marque school district attend schools in those districts.
Those figures do not take into account the number of La Marque students who attend charter schools — such as Mainland Preparatory Academy and Premier Learning Academy in La Marque — or private schools.
La Marque is also an open enrollment school district but did not respond to The Daily News’ request for transfer data.
Santa Fe, Friendswood and Clear Creek school districts are not open enrollment districts.
La Marque school officials, who are under a mandate from the state to right the district’s financial ship, have said that keeping students in the district is a priority. A “good news” campaign in hopes of slowing the flight is part of that effort.
Past efforts, including a well-publicized door-to-door campaign a few years ago, proved unsuccessful. Last summer, the district’s administration predicted that 3,155 students would attend La Marque schools.
The October enrollment numbers for the 2012-13 school year showed 2,700 students. Now, the interim administration and the district’s consulting superintendent are projecting that enrollment for 2013-14 will drop to 2,450.
If the school district could capture the $2.8 million in revenue lost to transfers, that would represent about a 12 percent increase over La Marque’s projected 2013-14 revenues of $23.03 million.
Historically, students had to attend the school district in which they lived. But in the 1990s, as a means to increase school competition and school choice, the state legislature introduced open enrollment laws. Those school districts that adopted open enrollment policies could take in students — and the state revenue that comes with them — from any district.
“A district that accepts transfers may or may not charge tuition,” Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said. “Also, the decision to accept transfer students is a local decision adopted by the local school board. A district does not have to accept transfers.”
Districts set their own guidelines for accepting transfer students, and in most cases, the students have to reapply year after year. Transportation to and from school is up to the parents.
Students can transfer for a variety of reasons, not just the quality of the school district in which the student lives. Sometimes a students will transfer to another district due to the parents’ job requirements.
Such may be the case in Galveston, where some parents work at the University of Texas Medical Branch but live elsewhere in the county.
In some cases, the parents may live in one district but are graduates of the district where their children attend school.
Districts did not provide a breakdown for why parents sought transfers, but those that did respond said for the most part, La Marque parents were dissatisfied with what that district has to offer their children.
By far, La Marque made up the majority of transfer students attending Galveston County schools in open enrollment districts.
Dickinson has the largest number of La Marque students at 228. That’s more than half of the 401 transfer students attending Dickinson schools, according to district figures.
That’s also about $1.4 million in lost potential state revenue for La Marque, which is trying to close a $1.6 million shortfall for the 2013-14 school year after having already cut costs by about $5 million because of the reduction in revenues. In turn, Dickinson will take in about $1.64 million in state revenue for those La Marque students.
The revenue figures are based on the baseline compressed rate revenue paid to the districts per student based on the district’s weighted average daily attendance data. The latest data was included in a June 20 report filed by the districts with the Texas Education Agency. School finance officials said that figure was the best “apples-to-apples” revenue comparison.
According to the reports for each district, La Marque would receive $4,994 per student, while Dickinson’s state revenue cut is $5,105 per student, according to the TEA report. Those figures could adjust up or down slightly based on several factors.
During a recent school board meeting, Dickinson school trustees worried that their ever-growing district was being forced to hire new teachers because of the La Marque transfer students.
Not so, Dickinson Superintendent Vicki Mims said.
The district only allows transfer students to attend those campuses where there are enough teachers and classroom space to accommodate them. While parents applying to send their children to Dickinson schools can request a specific campus, they are not guaranteed that choice, Mims said.
Incidentally, 74 students who would otherwise attend Dickinson schools attend classes in either Galveston, Hitchcock or Texas City schools.
Texas City’s $1M gain
Next in line for the most La Marque transfers is Texas City, which last year had 177 students from the neighboring school district. That resulted in more than $880,000 in lost revenue for La Marque but about $1 million extra for Texas City.
La Marque students account for 70 percent of the transfer students who attend Texas City schools, according to that district’s data. Texas City offers limited open enrollment and cuts off application for the next school year on Monday.
According to data from responding districts, 83 would-be Texas City students attend either Dickinson, Galveston or Hitchcock schools.
Jennifer Earl, 36, is the mother of two of those La Marque residents who attend schools in Texas City. Her daughters have attended Texas City schools for a decade.
Her 10-year-old will attend Fry Intermediate next year, and her 15-year-old will go to Texas City High School.
“One year’s experience in kindergarten for my oldest was enough for me,” Earl, a 1995 La Marque High School graduate, said. “It is not the same school district I went to.”
She said discipline problems and the lack of gifted and talented programs for her daughters prompted her to seek open enrollment in Texas City.
Everyone in the family works to get the girls to school.
“Me, my husband, my parents ... we all do what it takes to get them there,” Earl said. “They love it there, and we have never had any problems.”
Worth the drive
Parents in Tiki Island take turns getting their children across the causeway to attend Oppe Elementary in Galveston.
Candice Weaver is often the one hauling most of the Tiki children to Galveston. She said nine of the 16 Tiki Island students who would go to La Marque load up in her SUV each morning for the drive to Galveston.
“Not one kid here goes to La Marque,” she said.
The number of La Marque students attending Galveston schools is also in the triple digits. According to Galveston’s data, 114 students from La Marque walk the halls on the island.
That’s more than $560,000 in lost state revenue for La Marque.
In Hitchcock, 44 of its 64 transfer students come from neighboring La Marque. That is another $219,000 revenue hit for La Marque.