Decline in student numbers in Washtenaw County schools could be offset by change in funding formula

WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – Superintendent Scot Graden offers a simple explanation for those wondering how school districts primarily offering distance learning this fall plan to count students who attend classes.

“It’s really counting season, not counting the days,” Graden said on Wednesday, Oct. 7, as students across the state were counted both to log into distance education and to follow. in-person lessons during fall count day.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed the way school districts can count students – attending classes virtually or in person – on the day that determines their per student public funding. But, it also made it easier for districts which anticipate a loss of students at the start of the year.

Prior to the pandemic, state aid per state student was based on 90% of the fall tally, combined with 10% of the February tally.

This year, the state is using a new “super mix” formula based on 75% of last year’s attendance and 25% of this year’s attendance, which prevents school districts from being penalized if students are leaving their districts this fall for other preferred learning plans.

Saline is slated for fixed enrollment this fall among the 5,148 students it enrolled in 2019-20, Graden said, noting that the super mix formula will help cushion the blow of any potential loss of students.

“Right now, if we know a student is no longer here, it will cost around $ 2,000 per student based on that mixed number,” Graden said. “So if we lost 100 students, we would lose about $ 200,000 in public aid based on that tally, whereas last year if we lost 100 students it would be around $ 700,000.”

There are two ways that schools can document attendance this year to qualify for public funding in the virtual or hybrid learning format.

The first is to document the two-way interactions between a student and a teacher. The state defines two-way interaction as face-to-face, email, phone, instant message, or video-initiated communication initiated by a teacher with a response from a student.

In order to count for State Aid membership, two-way interactions must take place once in each class every week for four consecutive weeks after Wednesday’s count day.

The second is to measure attendance when a student participates in an activity linked to the course in each of his classes scheduled on the countdown day.

In either case, student participation can occur by attending a live lesson, connecting to an online or virtual lesson, a phone or video call between a student and teacher, or an email between the student. pupil and his teacher.

On count day, districts typically track each student enrolled and determine whether the student meets the requirements for enrollment and attendance, said Monica Hill, a student accounting specialist at Washtenaw Middle School District.

That process is the same this year, she said, noting that districts have until Nov. 6 to count students. Districts must certify their numbers to the state by November 11. Intermediate school districts across the state will receive these numbers for verification around mid-November.

The difference this year, Hill said, is that students have multiple options for meeting attendance requirements to be counted.

“Usually a district can have a small number of students enrolled in virtual classrooms that could meet counting requirements through some of these methods,” Hill said. “The difference this year is that every student enrolled in the district may be eligible for enumeration using one of these methods. Most of these methods are similar to those that cyber schools are allowed to use. “

Wednesday’s count day was not what Whitmore Lake Public Schools Superintendent Tom DeKeyser had expected as the district opted to temporarily move its classes online. after a positive case of COVID-19 at his elementary school.

As the district adjusts to a new format for verifying its student numbers through online interactions and attendance, DeKeyser said the process of tracking students who may not have been present on the counting day is similar to that of past years.

“For distance learning like we do today, it’s almost like replicating what happens in the classroom, but kids do it from their own homes,” he said. . “You would expect a child to register for direct distance education and the teacher will register if they have registered, such as in the classroom.”

If a student’s absence is excused on count day, the district will follow the student over the next 10 days to ensure they log in for online learning or attend classes online. nobody. Students with unjustified absences are followed for a period of 30 days, as districts finalize their enumeration figures to prove that they attend school regularly.

“What the audit is looking for and what we are looking for are trends that are coming up every day,” DeKeyser said.

Soften the blow

Lincoln Consolidated Schools budgeted for a fixed enrollment among the 3,722 students enrolled last year. The district expects a drop in enrollments, Superintendent Robert Jansen said, but it will likely still come out relatively unscathed from a budget perspective, as it had anticipated a much larger cut in state aid.

“We expected a reduction of $ 700 per student. That has changed, ”Jansen said.

Chelsea School District Superintendent Julie Helber estimated the fall number of 2,317 students, down from 2,430 mixed enrollments last year and more than the budgeted decrease of 50 students .

The district will reach students who weren’t in class on Wednesday over the next 30 days through a variety of means, Helber said, as Chelsea offers in-person and distance learning at different levels.

“Our middle and high school are only far apart for now, which may result in the need to put extra effort into making personal phone calls, emails, or attempted videoconferencing,” Helber said. “I trust our administration and staff to do what they can to ensure that all students are counted.”

Ypsilanti community schools budgeted for a fixed enrollment from last year’s student numbers of 3,827, Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross said. Zachery-Ross estimated the tally at around 3,600 on Wednesday.

The district faces a number of challenges when it comes to virtual attendance recording, Zachery-Ross said, including tracking interactions, ensuring stable internet access for students, and decrypting data between providers. partitioned.

While the new options for counting students may seem cumbersome, Graden said it ultimately gives school districts more options for documenting student attendance over the next 30 days.

Since many students are still in some form of virtual learning, Graden said tracking teacher-student interactions is already a big part of what’s happening in the region.

“I don’t see a scenario where we won’t get funding for a student who is actually here,” Graden said. “The students we don’t count have chosen other options, are homeschooled, or have moved.

“The fear you normally have on counting day as a leader is that the students will not be physically present, for some reason, and you won’t be able to count them. It is not a fear at the moment. We’ve been so interested in trying to make sure we’re in touch with our students, since they’re not physically present, that we probably have a better idea of ​​who’s enrolled and who isn’t.


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