Due to a $35 million budget shortfall, the Spring Branch School District will close two schools and several charter school programs, displacing about 2,100 students. Parent groups have said the decision will affect the most economically disadvantaged students.
According to a report by Houston Public Media, Panda Path School for Early Learning and Treasure Forest Elementary School will close their doors for the 2024-2025 school year. In addition, the SKY partnership, which includes charter programs with YES Prep Public Schools and KIPP Texas Public Schools, will dissolve, affecting KIPP Courage at Landrum Middle School and YES Prep at Northbrook High School and Middle School.
In addition, Superintendent Jennifer Blaine announced a reduction in force estimated to save about $23 million, while the school closures and charter program partnership will save about $9 million.
School board officials approved the decision at a Dec. 11 board meeting, blaming lack of state funding, as lawmakers failed to pass school finance legislation that would have increased funding for public schools.
This year, Texas lawmakers focused on measures to increase funding for private education during four special legislative sessions. Despite passing a measure to provide public schools with about $15,000 per campus for security, the state has maintained a static per-pupil funding rate since 2019 without adjusting it for inflation.
Parents and teachers have criticized the decision, and community members have urged the board to find alternative cost-saving measures.
“There was an assumption that the community would simply accept the proposed school closures without pushback,” Diana Alexander, a Spring Branch ISD mother said. “Our kids are not numbers considered for efficiency purposes.”
Children from economically disadvantaged households may be most affected by the decision. Panda Path School is a pre-kindergarten, and according to the Texas Education Agency, these types of public schools often serve non-English speaking children, educationally disadvantaged children, children in foster care, and children of military or first responders.
“The Northbrook feeder pattern, which is the most distressed in the district, is going to see huge impacts that will affect students there that are already facing significant education challenges,” Steve Rosencranz, a community member said.
Other districts, such as Fort Bend Independent School District and Clear Creek Independent School District, took alternative measures to address the lack of school funding. Both districts gave voters the option to increase the tax rate to support teacher salaries and meet state safety requirements.
Despite the challenges, Blaine said the district is committed to serving its 33,500 students.
“We will not let the leaders in Austin take us down,” she said. “The harder they try to destroy public education, the harder we will work to make sure our students continue to succeed at the very highest levels and SBISD remains a destination district for families and educators, even if we have to do things differently.”