California law would stop funding schools based on attendance

Now that funding for K-12 schools has been tied to daily student attendance for decades, California lawmakers are poised to scrap that norm and instead choose a new method that could give large counties like Los Angeles Unified a significant boost.

State Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge) will enact law on Monday that ties education funding to annual enrollment rather than average daily attendance records. The move could raise $ 3 billion in additional government funding for schools, Portantino said.

California has long funded its 1,000+ school districts based on the number of times students show up for class rather than the total number of people enrolled. The policy was promoted to hold schools accountable for student absences.

But proponents of the new bill, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, say enrollment-based policies are less volatile, allowing schools to raise more money and better plan spending.

To address absenteeism concerns, the Portantino proposal requires that at least half of all new funding schools receive under the new directive be used to tackle chronic absenteeism and truancy.

“This should by no means be seen as an attempt to devalue the inclusion of children in the classroom,” Portantino said in an interview with the Times. “That’s a Red Herring argument.”

Twelve percent of California’s 6 million+ K-12 students were marked “chronically absent,” meaning they missed at least 10% of the school year in 2018-19. The rate of chronic absenteeism among black students was more than double that among white students.

In November, the bipartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office predicted that K-12 schools and community colleges will receive more than $ 102.6 billion in the current fiscal year – nearly $ 9 billion more than the record amount already signed when it was signed Governor Gavin Newsom celebrated the state budget last summer. Public schools have been guaranteed the largest single share of General Fund revenue since voters approved formulas to finance education in 1988.

Proponents of Portantino’s bill said the absence of students during the pandemic brought to light the problems many universities have long faced because funding has been tied to attendance.

“Our current attendance-based funding system is draining resources from schools in low-income communities because of higher absenteeism,” says California School Employees Assn. That is what President Shane Dishman said in a statement. “The truth is, visit-based funding penalizes students in schools who need government funding most.”

Although a shift to enrollment-based funding could widen the gap between small and large districts, the draft law states that no school would receive less funding.

A “indemnity” provision would maintain current funding levels but allow districts to apply for additional funding if enrollment numbers are higher than the average daily attendance formula. The draft law is to come into force in the school year 2023/24.

“What we’re saying is, let’s give them the actual enrollment numbers, and that means extra dollars for the districts. No school district is going to lose money, it’s just going to make the pot grow, ”Portantino said. “My districts have been saying for years that this would lead to more stability and more money.”

California is one of the few states, including Texas and Kentucky, whose school funding is based on the average daily school attendance basis.

Portantino’s proposal comes after Newsom moved to temporarily protect California schools from attendance-based funding penalties as students were forced out of classrooms by the COVID-19 pandemic. The longstanding attendance policy has since been reinstated to encourage personal instruction.

Last year, the California Department of Education reported the largest drop in enrollment in 20 years, with about 160,000 fewer students than last year. A significant portion of these losses have been among kindergarten children, with families choosing not to enter a school system in one of the most seminal years in history.

But even without pandemic-related absenteeism, the school authorities warn of the financial consequences of falling school enrollment. California’s population declined for the first time in the recorded history of the state in 2020 – in part due to falling birth rates – with 5 to 17-year-olds making up a smaller portion of the population each year, according to Treasury researchers.

Proponents of Portantino’s plan say that regardless of changes to overall enrollment, a registry-based policy always has the potential for more money as attendance can change from day to day.

The Times staffer, Taryn Luna, contributed to this report.

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