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Senator Anthony Portantino. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Legislation to Change State School Funding Metrics From Attendance-Based to Enrollment-Based

School districts are losing millions due to large number of COVID-19 related absences

By Evan Symon, January 3, 2022 2:36 pm

A bill to replace state funding for schools based on daily attendance in favor of a system based on enrollment was prepared to be introduced to the state Senate on Monday, possibly signaling a large change in how schools can be funded in California.

The as-yet undesignated bill, authored by Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge), would do away with giving education funding based on daily attendance records, and instead be based on annual enrollment, a system which Portantino claims could bring an additional $3 billion to schools a year. Under the bill, at least half of all new money given to a district, especially those with high absence rates, must be used for truancy reduction measures such as truancy officers and investigating students with chronic absenteeism.

Starting in 1998, school districts in California no longer received money from the state for students who were absent from school, following over a decade of previous school funding changes and court challenges, including Prop 98, a voter passed minimum education funding guarantee, passed by voters in 1988. While the new system led to minimal losses caused by things such as flu outbreaks and other natural absences, many districts with chronically absent students were not getting nearly as much from the state.

Recently, COVID-19 absences have wreaked havoc even among the schools that previously had the least number of absences, with schools projected to lose $160 million of federal attendance based funding. However, 2022-2023 state funding for schools is likely to be far worse, with even medium sized districts possibly seeing $30 million in cuts per district due to so many being absent with COVID-19, as well as many of the ongoing absences are because parents have pulled their children out and are homeschooling, moved, or attending private schools.

The massive difference led Portantino to write the bill opting for funding based on overall enrollment.

“This should not be seen at all as an effort to devalue getting kids in class,” Senator Portantino said of his bill. “What we’re saying is, let’s give them what the actual enrollment numbers are and that will translate into extra dollars for districts. No school district will lose money, it will only force the pot to grow. My districts have been saying for years that this would lead to more stability and more funds.”

Supporters of the bill also noted how the current system harms  schools with significant numbers of minority students compared to other districts.

“Our current attendance-based funding system takes resources away from schools in lower-income communities because they experience higher rates of absenteeism,” California School Employees Association President Shane Dishman said in a statement Monday. “The truth is, attendance-based funding punishes students in schools that most need the state’s financial support.”

Opposition to the new bill

However, many have opposed the new plan, noting that other states with an overall enrollment funding style bring a lot more problems and don’t hold schools accountable for absences.

“Enrollment funding over attendance funding is always a huge mistake,” explained Catherine Wheeler, a Los Angeles-based education expert for a think tank, to the Globe on Monday. “With enrollment funding, districts are suddenly fighting over students, especially in areas with graying populations that see a decline in younger students. We’ve seen so many districts suffer under this, as many parents give students alternative addresses in other districts so they can go there, or have students be registered across the streets in another district because it’s better.”

“It’s true that districts will get more money, but for many that’s only a short-term gain and doesn’t guarantee that students will stay in school. There’s no incentive for schools to go after them any more to go to class. A lot of inner-city districts, especially on the East Coast, that adopted that policy did create new truancy officers, but only to bring them to school for one day or two days or whatever the minimum is so that the schools can claim that monthly enrollment amount. Some do the same for attendance, but attendance-based is usually a lot more days there, so there is a better hope that kids will continue going.”

“This bill might save the schools, but without incentive to keep those chronically truant students going, that’s a lot of kids who might be falling through the cracks, even with more truant officers.”

The bill is currently designed to allow schools to keep current funding levels if the even if there is a enrollment/attendance funding difference. If passed, the bill would begin the new enrollment funding system in the 2023-2024 school year.

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13 thoughts on “Legislation to Change State School Funding Metrics From Attendance-Based to Enrollment-Based

  1. You knew it was only a matter of time before we saw a proposal such as this crooked school funding change from attendance-based to enrollment-based. This solves so many problems for the bad guys! Like the voter rolls, the schools will just keep the existing enrollment numbers without updating them, is one trick that comes to mind. The difference between enrollment and attendance is VAST. If this happens there will be no incentive for the districts to keep kids in school or for teachers or administrators to bother much with attendance whether in person or on Zoom. The school districts are trying to pull a fast one.

    1. Agreed, ShowandTell.
      The threat of losing ADA dollars that once held the schools accountable will be gone. Sick outs whether one agrees with them or not will not hold the same sway as in the past.
      School choice must become an option for families attending failing schools.

  2. And previously, Kevin Kiley was removed from the Education committee. He opposes this legislation……wreaks of Napoleon’s revenge.

  3. “This bill might save the schools…”. I think the schools have proven themselves not worth saving. The school system has become a giant employment opportunity for greedy grifters too lazy to work. The funding should be allocated to the student, and follow that student to whatever school the parent chooses.

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