At Hastings High School in Alief, nearly three-quarters of the students come from low income families.
But in 2011, 165 students were reported as leaving Hastings to attend private schools, according to state records. That’s nearly 14 percent of students who started as freshmen four years earlier.
That raises a red flag for Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of the advocacy group Children at Risk.
“You don’t get 165 kids out of one high school just leaving and going to some private school. One they can’t really afford it.”
Sanborn sees another problem with the private schools themselves.
They’re not elite schools like St. Johns in River Oaks.
Students pay a fee. But critics say the focus is on the diploma and not the education.
Sanborn has another name for them: “diploma mills.”
“Places where you pay anywhere between $30 to $300 and you get your high degree in the mail. These are kids that will be classified as high school graduates. They won’t be classified as dropouts. But in a sense, they never got a real education. They basically just went to this mill that manufactured this piece of paper and now they won’t be counted as dropouts.
Sanborn says the situation reveals a problem with how Texas tracks students who don’t graduate.
At Hastings there are more students enrolling in private schools than actual dropouts, which were listed as fewer than 75 in 2011.
Hastings has seen one of the biggest increases of students who leave for private schools. The number has more than doubled in just two years.
The Alief Independent School District declined to comment on this issue.
But Alief School Board member Sarah Winkler says it bothers her.
She says the district can’t do much about it because the state doesn’t regulate private schools.
“That’s how they’ve managed to stay in business thus far, because I don’t think anybody thinks that this is right. The question is they’re private. They don’t get state money. You know, how does a state regulate something like a private school?”
It’s not just an issue in Alief.
Private schools are drawing students from other low-income schools in the Houston area.
At Madison, Lee and Jones high schools almost 10 percent of students who started as freshmen left for a private school by their senior year in 2011.
Ten years earlier this type of transfer was not as common.