Austin schools growing more diverse: About 60 percent of students are white; 26 percent are Latino

Published 10:54 am Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Austin Public Schools has a sizable student population that could get more diverse in the future.

That was the message district officials and Welcome Center Executive Director Jake Vela gave the Austin Public Schools board Monday.

About 60 percent of Austin’s estimated 4,800 students are white, according to unofficial registration counts thus far this month. Latino students make up about 26 percent of the district at more than 1,200 students, followed by several hundred black students, at about 9 percent of the district’s student population. About 5 percent of the district’s students are Asian, with a little more than a dozen students identifying as Native American or Pacific Islander.

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Though the district continues to enroll more students each year, Latino students are the largest-growing subgroup in recent years. That also holds true for English language-learning (ELL) students.

“Spanish speakers are definitely the fastest-growing group of students that are non-English speaking,” said Lori Henry, English Language Learner Coordinator. “Our English students are actually the largest-growing group of people.”

Yet the district is showing increasing diversity; There are about 51 different languages spoken at home, according to district officials.

Of the more than 1,000 students who speak something other than English at home, several hundred receive ELL lessons, according to Henry. About 650 to 700 students were enrolled in ELL classes in 2012, she said.

District officials say there are more Karen or Karenni students coming into Austin schools as well. The Karen are a group of refugees from Burma who have come to the U.S. in recent years, though there are several subgroups who identify as Karen, each with its own language. There are about 44 Karen students coming into the district this year, whereas there were no Karen students in 2011, according to Henry.

Vela told the district the Welcome Center has worked to help Karen workers at local meatpacking plants settle in Austin. Though there are about 400 Karen workers Quality Pork Processors, many of those workers haven’t moved their families from St. Paul to Austin.

Vela said that could change over the next few years as workers come to see Austin as their home.

“We’re seeing them live in Austin and purchasing homes at an accelerated pace,” Vela said.