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In San Ysidro School District, more than a quarter of the district’s nearly 4,400 students are unhoused, according to Superintendent Gina Potter. It highlights the question of how school funding should be determined, she said, while weighing the pros and cons of a switch from the current attendance-based funding formula to an enrollment-based formula during an EdSource roundtable discussion on how a change to California’s funding formula could impact school districts across the state.

“I have to say that’s not the system in California that provides a system of support for these families that are so vulnerable,” Potter said. “We really need support, and they don’t want penalties. These are the very children that need our resources.”

She weighed that issue alongside the declining enrollment trends affecting districts across the state as she and other district officials, researchers and lawmakers spoke on the Thursday panel. Historically, California has funded its schools based on their average daily attendance — one of six states to still follow that model and one of several contemplating a shift away from it.

Panelists at the roundtable considered several factors as they weighed the shift, including which groups the change would impact most, how declining enrollment would factor into funding and possible incentives to keep attendance high.

As the attendance-based funding formula stands now, high school districts and districts with more low-income students, English learners and foster youth students are the ones receiving the short end of the stick.

A change to an enrollment-based formula would boost funding across such districts, according to senior director of policy and strategy at the Opportunity Institute Carrie Hahnel. Hahnel is also a senior fellow at the research nonprofit Policy Analysis for California Education, which published a report this month evaluating the potential impact of a change in formula and which noted that 90% of school districts across the state would benefit from the change.

“Oftentimes, it’s for reasons that have to do with community factors like asthma, transportation barriers and other things that are outside of the control of the school district,” she said. “Not to say that the district and the school can’t do anything to improve attendance — of course they can — but that is one compelling reason that advocates have raised for attention.”

A shift in the formula would allow for an alignment of funding and district budgets, she added, referencing how, though the money comes from attendance, decisions over how it’s spent are based on the number of students, not on how often they are present.

Potter, along with the other two district representatives present at the roundtable, agreed that now would be the best time to shift to an enrollment-based formula in light of this year’s booming state revenue.

“I think it’s not going to hurt; we pilot something for a year or two, as we are moving out of this pandemic to see how our kids can have more resources and thrive,” said Erin Simon, the assistant superintendent of school support services at Long Beach Unified. “I think it’s definitely worth the conversation. And I think definitely worth more research to see how we can support our students at a higher level.”

“We’ve got an influx of resources, we’ve got staffers who are willing to think about things differently, and the whole education community has had to do a lot of shifting,” said Holly Cybulski, director of elementary and K-8 schools at San Juan Unified.

But with a shift to an enrollment-based formula comes the need to tackle the state’s declining enrollment, which has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the report from PACE, enrollment across California dropped by nearly 3% last school year — the equivalent of 160,000 students and a rate 10 times higher than the annual rates of the last five years.

Though Public Policy Institute of California research fellow Julien Lafortune acknowledged the state has hit a steep drop, he also said he considered it a short-term drop because future projections are fairly consistent with projections made prior to the pandemic. Overall, the decline in enrollment is expected to hit 9% between now and 2030, according to the state.

“It’s not so much an acceleration but really more of this one-time shock that we saw last year, and then projections that are adding on to that lower base enrollment,” Lafortune said. “It’s possible we could see some bounce-back here. We’re kind of building in this pandemic decline, and we haven’t seen the enrollment numbers for this school year yet, at least statewide.”

As the state continues to deal with the decline, districts would have to prepare for budget cuts, state Sen. John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, said. The state could address the issue through hold-harmless provisions, which would help districts avoid fiscal shocks as enrollment declines, but that would mean the state would fund phantom seats to offset the changes.

“In the ideal world, it probably makes much more sense to have an enrollment system, given what was said about preparing for everybody that’s there,” he said. “But in the practical world, it requires billions of more dollars to hold some people harmless. And we have a whole series of choices of what to do to the money. And we should look at what the priorities are that we really think will push schools ahead.”

A shift to an enrollment-based formula would require $3.4 billion more annually. That funding is available through Proposition 98 funds but would mean that policymakers have a decision to make: They can direct the money toward base funds by changing the formula or direct it toward funding specific education programs, Hahnel said.

In moving away from an attendance-based formula, the state would also have to consider how else to incentivize districts to keep attendance high. The state currently runs a dashboard of attendance numbers for accountability and enforces attendance through truancy laws that include escalating levels of intervention. It could consider more of these accountability and truancy measures or, as an option, tie in an incentive to the enrollment funding, Hahnel said.

“I think the thing that we have to remember is that educators really want to serve students,” Hahnel said. “There is this idea that we need to have an incentive and a push to drive attendance is kind of a strange one, when really the charge of school is to serve students, so I think there’s a lot we can do.”

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  1. Ann 4 months ago4 months ago

    I have a student with several serious health conditions which cause chronic significant illness with 50% of school days where he can't do school at all, and short school days. He is brilliant and can do very well academically - he can complete a course in 1/5 the normal time, but no school wants him because they will not get the ADA apportionment for him. He wants to be part of a school, … Read More

    I have a student with several serious health conditions which cause chronic significant illness with 50% of school days where he can’t do school at all, and short school days. He is brilliant and can do very well academically – he can complete a course in 1/5 the normal time, but no school wants him because they will not get the ADA apportionment for him. He wants to be part of a school, have social opportunities, is excited to learn, share with other students.

    The schools either try to get rid of him, or put him in a non-diploma track if they are to reduce his work-load, and will not document his expected level of absence in an IEP or 504. Not only do they not get ADA, but the doctors have put in that teacher support should be given if he misses class or is ill for extended periods, which is another financial burden on the school. The schools would not agree to this, and will only provide a home hospital teacher for an hour a day, where as his medical conditions are not temporary. Or do not want to provide a teacher for him at all and put him on a self-study independent study program. with no teacher support.

    There appears to be no program for individuals with permanent medical conditions that prevent fulltime education due to chronic illness

  2. el 8 months ago8 months ago

    When a school plans and directs funding, it is based on enrollment, not on attendance. Class size limits are based on enrollment, not attendance. If we have a limit of 24 for example, we have to split when we reach 25 even if typically one student is absent every day. Every educator I've met is very interested in getting kids to school every day that is appropriate for them. I think there are ways to create … Read More

    When a school plans and directs funding, it is based on enrollment, not on attendance. Class size limits are based on enrollment, not attendance. If we have a limit of 24 for example, we have to split when we reach 25 even if typically one student is absent every day.

    Every educator I’ve met is very interested in getting kids to school every day that is appropriate for them. I think there are ways to create incentives and attention on specific kids and specific schools where attendance is low. It is true that this incentive is very powerful in the community at times, to create an ethic where kids should show up to school every day. But it’s also true that it’s used to bring kids to school when they are sick and probably contagious, not to mention not really functional, and maybe that’s not in the best interest of the kids or the school if our true goal is learning rather than butts-in-seats.

    Another factor to consider is that rural schools have extra challenges, where for example a child’s doctor may be an hour drive away each day and these distances sometimes cause additional absences.

    The pandemic made it clear that sometimes kids do get sick and that doesn’t lessen the cost to the district. There are people here who want the money earmarked for attendance initiatives but not everything is in the direct control of the school. The things that we should be doing with “additional” funds are the things we always need to do and already don’t really have enough to cover.

    The biggest benefit of changing the funding to enrollment versus attendance is just that there’s less uncertainty for the district in planning. Students will still come and go with enrollment, but being able to plan and budget and spend based on enrollment instead of attendance will be one less dice throw districts have to guess about, especially small districts where the population size doesn’t just average out those impacts.

  3. Todd Maddison 9 months ago9 months ago

    Hmmm... lots of words here, but most from people who stand to gain from this shift - people working in the education industry ... And in all of this not one word about the fact that the attendance-based focus we have now has led us to be one of the top performing states in the country at getting kids to actually attend school. A very rare case where California does well in any aspect of education … Read More

    Hmmm… lots of words here, but most from people who stand to gain from this shift – people working in the education industry …

    And in all of this not one word about the fact that the attendance-based focus we have now has led us to be one of the top performing states in the country at getting kids to actually attend school. A very rare case where California does well in any aspect of education compared to other states.

    Yet no mention of that. Despite the fact that getting kids to actually attend school is literally the most important thing there is in education.

    I realize some of the orgs quoted here are not directly in the loop to benefit based on education funding, but where are the quotes from people who actually think the welfare of our kids is more important than funding the outsized paychecks of those in the education industry?

  4. Tony Mercado 9 months ago9 months ago

    Give tuition vouchers and let the parents and children decide which school they want to go. That will promote competition among the schools which will make them aspire to be the best in teaching quality.

    Replies

    • Todd Maddison 9 months ago9 months ago

      Absolutely, but unfortunately in our state the idea that parents should have control over the best education of their kids fails routinely. There is a petition out right now to put an initiative on the ballot in November that would do that (the Educational Freedom Act) and it is struggling to obtain the needed signatures.

      Regrettable that even in this time, not enough parents are willing to take action for their kids to make that happen…

  5. SD Parent 9 months ago9 months ago

    Overall, I think that funding based on enrollment is better than based on attendance, particularly if we're asking students to stay home when they are ill. However, I believe "piloting" enrollment-based funding does have the capacity to cause harm to students. With complete flexibility, LEAs might choose to use the additional funding in a way that a later switch to ADA-based funding (resulting in a loss of funding) could create an even bigger fiscal … Read More

    Overall, I think that funding based on enrollment is better than based on attendance, particularly if we’re asking students to stay home when they are ill. However, I believe “piloting” enrollment-based funding does have the capacity to cause harm to students. With complete flexibility, LEAs might choose to use the additional funding in a way that a later switch to ADA-based funding (resulting in a loss of funding) could create an even bigger fiscal cliff in the face of declining enrollment.

    This concern is based on a long history of fiscal irresponsibility in San Diego Unified, which has relied on short-term budgeting with the expectation of more funding on the horizon rather than realistic budgeting based on declining enrollment. Additional funding provided to SDUSD has primarily resulted in pay increases for all employees under “recruit and retain educators”–while students experienced little to no improvements in programs and services and no meaningful academic growth with persistent achievement gaps (as measured by CAASPP). Then, when the funding inevitably fell short – due to a combination of annual declining enrollment and an historical average of employee pay and benefit expenditures exceeding 95% of unrestricted revenues – the district made reductions in student programs and services. In fact, SDUSD was compelled to find “budget solutions” to compensate for budget shortfalls every year between 2009 until 2020, when massive federal and state pandemic relief funding plus “hold harmless” ADA funding prevented the district from experiencing a looming fiscal cliff.

    With student academic needs at an all-time high due to pandemic-related learning loss, a switch to enrollment-based funding needs to include some meaningful expectations for student gains. Putting more money into the pockets of employees will not close the achievement gap and sets up students for cuts to programs and services down the line, when enrollment inevitably declines.

    Replies

    • Todd Maddison 9 months ago9 months ago

      "Overall, I think that funding based on enrollment is better than based on attendance, particularly if we’re asking students to stay home when they are ill" We're going to have to disagree on that one (rare, I know...) Your point - that the funds might be used for things other than incentivizing attendance - is a given. We've seen that every single time funding has been increased in the past, including most famously the Prop 30 … Read More

      “Overall, I think that funding based on enrollment is better than based on attendance, particularly if we’re asking students to stay home when they are ill”

      We’re going to have to disagree on that one (rare, I know…)

      Your point – that the funds might be used for things other than incentivizing attendance – is a given. We’ve seen that every single time funding has been increased in the past, including most famously the Prop 30 tax increase in 2012.

      That was part of a skyrocketing of per ADA revenue (up at a rate of 7%/year since then, over 3x inflation) and also a skyrocketing of employee pay – which increased also at multiples of inflation, with current median total compensation levels well into six figures for almost all employees.

      Amazing, when given more money with no strings our education establishment uses most of it to benefit themselves, not to improve the education of our kids.

      Who would have thought that?

  6. Michele 9 months ago9 months ago

    Ann, of course districts will lay off people, they always do. But reality is, this is a service based industry, so people WILL be the greatest cost. And there are staffing realities - you can't lay off directly proportionate to the decline in students. For example, you can't lay off a fraction of a principal, or a fraction of a custodian, or a fraction of a school bus driver. The buses still … Read More

    Ann, of course districts will lay off people, they always do. But reality is, this is a service based industry, so people WILL be the greatest cost. And there are staffing realities – you can’t lay off directly proportionate to the decline in students. For example, you can’t lay off a fraction of a principal, or a fraction of a custodian, or a fraction of a school bus driver. The buses still run, the cafeteria still serves lunches, the parents still expect the principal and office support staff to be there for the entire day.

    And if the district attempts to close a school (due to declining enrollment), the community will come out in force -no one wants their neighborhood school to close. And of course, with school closures come other costs – now the kids need transportation, they can’t walk to school anymore, so other costs increase. And parents are upset, and children are upset – for good reason. So reducing staff isn’t as easy as it sounds.

    Reality is, funding based on “ADA” benefits the wealthier communities and penalizes the poorer communities. And schools still have all the costs, whether a child comes to school or doesn’t come. They need to maintain a space in a classroom for every child – so this archaic formula of average daily attendance makes no sense at all.

    How about putting some teeth back into truancy laws, allowing some more creative alternative service programs, and funding based on the number of students a district/school actually serves?

  7. John H. Lorona 9 months ago9 months ago

    Sorry for taking a dim view of school districts, but even prior to the pandemic school districts were struggling with chronic absenteeism. Districts must learn to work creatively with themselves, students, and parents. A bailout is not the answer; how often does the state have to throw money at this problem

  8. Ann 9 months ago9 months ago

    Fewer students should mean fewer employees to serve those students. 85-90+% of district budgets are employee salaries and benefits so districts should be transitioning to the expected lower numbers. Should also help ease the reported 'teacher shortage' and even give California an opportunity to improve the qualities of that work force. Also 'more than a quarter of the district’s nearly 4,400 students are unhoused'. The definition the state uses for homeless includes have … Read More

    Fewer students should mean fewer employees to serve those students. 85-90+% of district budgets are employee salaries and benefits so districts should be transitioning to the expected lower numbers. Should also help ease the reported ‘teacher shortage’ and even give California an opportunity to improve the qualities of that work force. Also ‘more than a quarter of the district’s nearly 4,400 students are unhoused’. The definition the state uses for homeless includes have two families living in the same home, very common among certain cultures and especially immigrants. The combination of poverty and uneducated adults in a household can be and often is a huge detriment to student academic outcomes but LCFF funding gives districts a substantial financial boost for these students (and foster children and ELLS). Anyone working in a district right now is seeing massive spending on ‘stuff’ ( use it or lose it) which may have no direct impact on our students’ academic outcomes. Stop throwing money at an obviously failed system.