EDINBURG — The public school district is joining most of its neighboring districts in opening its classrooms to universal open enrollment.

Edinburg school districts will begin the 2018-2019 school year with a new policy in which they will welcome students from other district lines for the first time.

“This is really what most of us school districts are doing,” said Edinburg school district Superintendent Rene Gutierrez. “We have to think of ways of attracting students into our district. For us, this was something that we needed to do because obviously we are all competing for students and we want to make Edinburg CISD a district of choice to students who live in our surrounding areas.”

In previous years, the school district had been inching toward this move by first opening enrollment to their own staff who lived outside the city of Edinburg; they later approved to widen that range to those who live outside the city but whose parents own businesses in Edinburg; and later a move to open enrollment only to those willing to pay tuition was also approved.

This latest decision removes all restrictions and fees, completely opening the enrollment to any qualifying student.

Qualification will be based on student’s academic standing, Gutierrez said, including attendance, discipline and grades, but anybody interested in attending the district schools and willing to provide transportation is encouraged to apply as registration is still open.

Decreased enrollment, especially in the lowest grade levels — pre-K through 2nd — is what led the district to propose open enrollment to the board of trustees, which approved the move during a special meeting on July 25. This decrease has been steady, Gutierrez said, over the last three to five years.

The school district reported a total enrollment of 34,156 students for the 2017-2018 school year, in comparison to the previous year of 2016-2017 where enrollment was reported at 34,680. The largest decrease in these last couple of years were seen in pre-K through 2nd grade as they lost about 566 students in these grades alone, according to data reported to the Texas Education Agency.

Similar to many of Edinburg’s neighboring public school districts, Gutierrez attributes the decrease to a growing competition for students brought upon by charter schools and an increase number of open enrollment policies in most districts across the area.

“We know that a lot has to do with charter schools, surrounding districts having open enrollment,” he said. “It also has to do with students moving out of the area… also the immigration situation going on in the border has impacted the enrollment of our

students.”

The tuition-based program previously used to solely for open enrolment was not popular, he said, considering most parents would rather go to any other charter school or open-enrollment school district rather than paying tuition. This time, the district did not set a cap for the number of students to be accepted from outside its lines, but will prioritize filling the spots in the lower grades with more openings, Gutierrez said. This initial year will be used as a measure to discuss guidelines for future years.

“We feel like we have very strong, quality programs that offer,” Gutierrez said. “We are going to evaluate at the end of the year and see how many students we attracted. But we see it as a positive and we can only see it as this is going to increase our numbers.”

School begins Aug. 27, and Gutierrez said that even if there is only one month left, the process of applying and registering for out-of-district students should be simple and quick to get them ready for the school year. Those interested are being encouraged to contact Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Dr. Mario Salinas at (956) 289-2300.

“We have all of our districts administrators already back,” Gutierrez said. “We are moving forward with it and campus administration already knows and are ready for it.”