The Charter Effect: Students Flock To School Districts Outside San Antonio | Texas Public Radio

The Charter Effect: Students Flock To School Districts Outside San Antonio

Jul 2, 2019

The fastest growing school districts in the San Antonio metro area are now located mostly outside Bexar County.

The rapid growth of charter schools throughout Bexar County, combined with an increase in housing options outside the city, has catapulted enrollment growth in neighboring counties ahead of San Antonio, according to a TPR analysis of enrollment changes over the past 10 years.

Comal Independent School District north of San Antonio added more students than any other school district in the metro area over the past five years, averaging out to about 900 students a year.

The fast pace means constant construction. At the future home of Comal’s fourth high school, communications director Steve Stanford points out where the performing arts wing will be.

“Right now we’re heading towards the front entrance of the school,” Stanford said to the hum of generators and buzz of power tools. Part of his job is to work with a demographer to plan where the next school should go.

Davenport High School located near Interstate 35 is slated to open in the fall of 2020. A fifth high school will open in 2021.

“Where we’re seeing most of our growth is along the 281 and I-35 corridors, which is right where these two high schools that we’re talking about are being built.”

Comal is the largest of several school districts adjacent to San Antonio that grew by nearly 50% since 2009. Medina Valley, a small district along Highway 90 to the west grew by nearly 70%. Boerne up I-10 to the north grew 46%.

Northside, San Antonio’s largest school district, also grew quickly at the beginning of the decade. But over the past few years Comal, Medina and Boerne began outpacing Northside, adding hundreds more students apiece despite being a fraction of the size.

Comal Superintendent Andrew Kim expects his district will see even more families move into the I-35 corridor to Austin over the next five years.

Comal is a large district — 589 square miles. It covers a bit of Bexar County and all of Comal County except for New Braunfels proper. Kim said most fast-growth districts have three or four new housing developments. Comal has 10 or 11.

Julie Puzan poses for a portrait outside her new home in Comal ISD built by the KB Home development company.
Credit Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio

Julie Puzan recently moved to one of those developments with her husband and two young sons. They chose a new subdivision north of New Braunfels built by KB Home.

“Here we could build a lot more house for a lot less money,” Puzan said, standing outside her new home.  “My husband had already been working in Schertz… and when he saw the schools were across the street he said ‘Sold!’”

Puzan works at the Texas Veterans Commission in Austin and they used to live nearby in Kyle. She said it would have cost $20,000 more to build the same KB Home in Kyle.

“The day care went down — I think we ended up saving $600 a month. It was $300 per child. Because the day care costs here (are) not competing with Austin.”

Teena Sannicolis-Tanner watches her daughter Lo’Ani eat lunch with her friend Nevaeh at Comal ISD's Garden Ridge Elementary on the last day of school May 30, 2019.
Credit Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio

Teena Sannicolis-Tanner also recently moved to the Comal school district. Like Puzan, she was attracted to the small-town feel of the New Braunfels area.

During a party on the last day of the year at Garden Ridge Elementary in Comal, Sannicolis-Tanner said her daughter’s new school feels more “family oriented” than her family’s old schools in the North East district.

“This is the first school I’ve been to where I see more parents involved, a lot more dads, to be honest with you,” said Sannicolis-Tanner.

Comal ISD's Garden Ridge Elementary Principal Jennifer Schultz signs autographs on her students' beach balls. Schultz said Garden Ridge ended the school year May 30, 2019 with 70 more students than they had the previous fall.
Credit Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio

She said her family was attracted to the larger lot sizes in Comal County, and they had a lot of friends move to the area before they did.

“We felt like we were out here most of the time, so it just became natural,” she said.

Across the playground, Principal Jennifer Schultz took a break from signing autographs on beach balls to say that Garden Ridge added 70 students over the course of the school year.

“We started with about 800 and we’re ending with 870, so a lot has happened just in one year,” Schultz said. “Basically three class-worth sizes.”

Schultz said they were able to absorb the new students without much trouble because they started out the year with small class sizes.

Right now Comal ISD is pretty much the only option parents who move to the area have other than homeschooling or private school. Both the county and the city of New Braunfels have very few charter schools.

Superintendent Andrew Kim believes families will continue to choose Comal even if charter networks move in. He said the quality of the school district is one of the reasons families are choosing to move here.

“If any charter schools want to try to come in and try to take advantage of that, they can do so at their own peril I guess,” Kim said. “But certainly we believe that we are going to be highly competitive and we’re going to make sure that our students stay with us.”

Families also move to the school districts on the North Side of San Antonio based on the reputation of their schools. But as reported in Part 1 of The Charter Effect, thousands of families in Northside and North East chose to send their children to charter schools once they had the option.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille

This is the third and final story in TPR’s series The Charter Effect examining trends uncovered from an analysis of a decade of enrollment data.

Editor’s Note: Data used in this analysis is based on enrollment reported to the Texas Education Agency on a single day in October. In addition to enrollment reports, TPR obtained a decade of data listing the number of students attending a district or charter network other than their home district, as reported to the Texas Education Agency each fall.

TPR used statewide campus-level data cross-referenced with district enrollment reports and physical addresses to create an accurate list of charter schools and traditional public schools located in one of the eight counties in the San Antonio-New Braunfels Metropolitan Area. See the data.