Austin parents have until the Jan. 31 to request to transfer their child to another school in the district next fall. Around ten percent of Austin ISD students transferred between schools in the 2012-2013 school year. In recent years, it’s become a contentious topic as the district must balance overcrowded and under-enrolled schools, while also providing academic options to students within the district.
There are essentially four ways for students to transfer to different schools in the district according to Vincent Torres, the Austin School Board President.
One way is the "majority to minority" transfer, which Austin parent Cindy Anderson used when she was deciding where to send her son to middle school. While her son is zoned for Kealing Middle School, her daughter attended Fulmore Middle School's magnet program, and she wanted to see if there was a way for her son to also attend Fulmore.
Kealing has a majority white student population and Fulmore is predominantly Hispanic. Since Anderson’s son is white, he qualified as a minority in Fulmore and was awarded a transfer.
“I felt it would be a beneficial opportunity to attend school with a different demographic from his elementary school and from our ethnicity," Anderson says.
The most popular transfer option is a “general transfer”, which includes things like following a sibling to a school or wanting to attend a school with a specific academic program. School board president Vincent Torres says as the district develops its Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, it’s important to provide options to students.
“We’re not going to be able to offer every CTE program at every high school in the district," Torres says.
The second transfer method grew out of desegregation and provides bus service to students to promote diversity across the district. The third method is available if your school fails state standards, while the fourth is available if your school fails federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability standards. Under the last two scenarios, parents can remove their children and transfer them to any school, even if the district has frozen that school to transfers.
“The effect due to transfer policies that we can control is, in my opinion, minimal to negligible. I think there are some cases that may be the case but overall the NCLB type transfers, we have no control over," Torres says.
So even if the district changed its transfer policy, it can’t prevent many transfers from occurring. But when parents, teachers and education officials talk about overcrowded and under-enrolled schools, transfer policies often come up. Some say they’re needed to provide options to students within the district.
“Choice is a value and to be competitive," Anderson says. "We already have to compete with charter and private we have to continue offer choice.”
Anderson says eliminating transfers doesn't solve the problems that allow parents to remove their children from certain schools and place them in others. She says often times there are stereotypes associated with a school's enrollment.
“People think an under-enrolled school means it has a bad reputation or it’s not performing well academically, but in many cases that’s not the situation at all."
School Board member Ann Teich says there's also a socioeconomic stigma that keeps parents from transferring their children to certain schools in the district.
“There are some people who don’t want their kids to go to school with poor people," Teich says. " Let’s just put it out there. They don’t mind the racial diversity, but it’s the economic diversity that they have a problem with, in my opinion.”
This spring, the Austin School Board must develop a Facility Master Plan to manage its buildings and facilities in the future, which could include changing transfer policies or attendance boundaries. Teich says any changes will require extensive community engagement.