School funding – enrollment vs attendance?

Rep. Mat Erpelding, minority leader of the Idaho House, recently wrote that basing funding on enrollment rather attendance is the one good thing about the new school funding proposal.  “Just because a student misses school does not make operations any cheaper for that day. The same amount of staff must show. The same amount of lights turn on. So, we should count all students enrolled for the school year. It sounds simple.”

I don’t disagree with Rep. Erpelding often, but I don’t even like that part of the proposal. So I set out to send Mat links to the articles that shaped my opinion.

I couldn’t find them. I searched Google for  “registration-based school funding” and got articles on the Chinese stock market.  In contrast, finding articles criticizing attendance-based funding was easy. They claimed schools kept dangerous students they should kick out, and that schools in poorer neighborhoods suffered because, of course, poor kids are not good about attending.

Thoughts of controlled news ala Brave New World came to mind.

So this is what I remember from about five years back. One state using registration-based funding found that charter schools put their best efforts into registering students and skimped on serving or retaining them once the state accepted registration numbers. Ignored, confused students simply quit going to school or returned to their public schools. Since the students’ funding for the year had already been paid out to the charter school, nothing was paid to the public schools that actually served them most of the school year.

Admittedly, there could be remedies.  A state could require a minimum amount of attendance or take enrollment quarterly. Still, schools could be lax about removing students who had moved to another state or just decided to stay home.

Thanks to a blog by educator Levi Cavener, I know the problem hasn’t completely disappeared.  Last week, he mentioned that the Ohio Board of Education was suing one charter school, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), for $60 million it had charged for “ghost students.”

With that much detail, I could find articles. That $60 million overcharge was for just one school year– 2015-2016.

In court, ECOT actually argued that the state had no right to require any level of participation by its students. Last week the Ohio Supreme Court ruled for the Board of Education.  Apparently, Ohio has not approved solely registration-based school funding.

In January ECOT turned off its servers and left 12,000 students, grades k-12, without schools.

In May 2016, the New York Times had reported that ECOT’s 2014 graduation rate, 39 percent, was the lowest in the country.  An earlier Columbus Dispatch article had noted that, while most schools spent 80 percent of their income on employee salary and benefits, ECOT spent only 50 percent. Millions went into advertising and campaign contributions.

On the other hand, attendance-based funding has its upside.

It’s not unusual for schools’ turnover rates to exceed 30 percent a year. We cannot pretend that students “enroll for the year.”

  Time-on-task is an important factor in student progress. We need to stop ridiculing “seat-time” until schools requiring less time have graduation rates as good as public schools.

Although some schools may overdo it, it’s basically a good thing for schools to want students to attend. They put effort into events to improve morale and participation, adjust bus routes to provide service, provide counseling for students with difficulties, and regularly meet with parents.

And, yes, we need to fund teachers and lights even though students are absent, so we should continue basing some school funding on classroom units.

Not all change is progress.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

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