School Funding

Why Michigan schools want relaxed rules for student attendance

When neighboring districts moved to online learning amid rising COVID-19 rates this school year, Superintendent Ryan McLoud kept the doors of his Macomb County school district open, except for brief closure of the college due to staff shortages.

Yet more than a quarter of its 2,500 students at Eastpointe Community Schools have already missed 20 days of school this school year. Each of those days counts as school attendance below 75%, the daily legal threshold for receiving full state funding.

McLoud said he has a choice as it moves forward: keep the school doors open and continue to lose funding, or close the school, avoid a loss of funding, and deny education to students who show up.

“For us to play a game makes no sense to me, it makes no sense to close the doors,” McLoud said. “We are not in an ideal place to lose funding when these services are needed by students to meet (increased) academic needs and socio-emotional needs.”

McLoud and other superintendents are seeking a legislative solution to the burgeoning problem that is being driven by more snow days, growing staff shortages from COVID-19 and other illnesses, school threats and power outages. intermittent current.

An informal survey last month found that more than a third of the 275 school districts that responded had several days they failed to meet the 75% attendance requirement. The state has more than 530 traditional school districts.

Of survey respondents, 23% had already closed for five or more days as of Jan. 25, said officials from the Michigan Association of School Boards, which conducted the survey in conjunction with other education agencies. .

Under state law, districts can cancel up to six days of school due to circumstances beyond their control without making up lost instructional time or losing funding. State Superintendent Michael Rice can waive three additional missed days. Districts also have the option of making up missed days by adding days during the school year or at the end of the year.

Michigan school districts have met the 75% requirement for the past two school years and no funding has been recovered by the state, said William DiSessa, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education.

“Last year, the Legislature changed the 75% requirement to be a monthly measure rather than a daily one,” DiSessa said. “This made it easy for districts to record attendance for at least 75% of their enrolled students during the attendance period. The prior year, COVID did not impact attendance as it is. the case now.”

Detroit out of days

The Detroit Public Schools Community District has fallen below a nine-day attendance rate of 75% so far this school year, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

Vitti said all days were e-learning days, which occurred due to staffing shortages and student absences due to COVID-19-related illnesses and quarantines or because of the surge of the omicron variant in January after the holidays.

Vitti wants state lawmakers to change the law this year by increasing the number of days that can be waived or reducing the turnout percentage.

“Our recommendation is that, like last year, all attendance requirements be waived this year due to the current COVID-related challenges,” Vitti said. “If that’s not possible, then lowering the daily attendance requirement to 60% and/or providing districts with more “emergency days” to apply retroactively to school days below 75%.

“We, like other districts, have already used up those six days.”

Vitti expects overall student attendance to improve this semester as quarantine rules for students who are not sick have eased.

“We have no intention of returning to online learning across the district,” Vitti said. “Going forward, we will ‘overcome the challenges of COVID’ and stay open.”

School district leaders across the state are doing everything they can to keep buildings open and students learning in classrooms, said Tina Kerr, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators.

“But right now there are too many factors beyond their control, and they need flexibility,” Kerr said. “It’s not just a few districts trying to make the best decision they can with the cards that have been handed to them. This is absolutely a statewide problem that affects districts of all sizes and in all jurisdictions. regions of the state.”

Mislead the public?

State Rep. Pamela Hornberger, Township of R-Chesterfield, and chair of the House Education Committee, does not support changing the 75% requirement and accused superintendents of misleading the public saying they were losing all the funding.

“If you go below 75%, you don’t lose your full funding for the day. You lose a percentage of what’s below 75%. It’s very minimal,” Hornberger said.

Hornberger said as an example that if schools in the Lowell area had 70% attendance for one day, the district would lose about $12,000. The district about 18 miles east of Grand Rapids receives approximately $32.4 million in state assistance and receives $7.3 million in state and federal pandemic funding.

Districts that lose funding due to less than 75% attendance have millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds to use to make up the difference, Hornberger said. Statewide, Michigan school districts are receiving $6 billion over several years in pandemic relief school funds.

“With all the money they got from the federal government, it was supposed to go to keep the kids in school,” Hornberger said. “If we were in a situation without a ton of federal dollars, that would be a different conversation.”

Jennifer Smith, director of government relations at the Michigan Association of School Boards, said her organization and others have been in talks with state lawmakers about the changes.

Using COVID funds to offset financial losses from canceled days will only work if the cancellation is COVID-related, Smith said. Closures for threats, weather or power outages are not permissible, she said.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations that are going well. It’s about educating them about what’s going on honestly on the court,” Smith said.

Districts need lawmakers to remove the 75% threshold or bring it closer to the required 60% attendance for make-up days at the end of the school year, she said.

“Superintendents have to decide between a financial hit and the day’s close,” Smith said. “If we can take the financial price off the table, we can keep more buildings open.”

Distance learning courses are not an option

Central Lake Public Schools just experienced its eighth day of closure on Thursday – this time due to icy roads – and had four more days when attendance fell below 75%.

The Northern District of Michigan located between Traverse City and Petoskey closed due to weather, power outages and unsanitary water issue. Attendance dropped less than 75% due to COVID-related illness, Superintendent Lenore Weaver said.

Weaver said she was committed to keeping the school open regardless of the number of students seated as long as there were enough adults to supervise. Some days this meant that a class had only eight students. The rural district has 270 K-12 students.

Weaver said she believes in the attendance requirement and thinks it is necessary to ensure all children are in school to learn. Sending their students home to learn remotely is not an option for all children due to a lack of Internet connectivity in his neighborhood.

The state shouldn’t cancel his district’s state aid when it drops below 75% because kids who showed up should count, Weaver said.

“If the kids were in school that day, count that day,” she said.

It’s not a problem that’s likely to go away, said Peter Spadafore, executive director of the Middle Cities Education Association, which is among education groups calling for a legislative solution.

“School leaders want to make sure as many children as possible are safe in classrooms for as many days as possible. We need the law to reflect those choices and make it easier for districts to offer safe in-person learning and to support students who stay at home.”

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