Potential inaccurate school enrollment data could affect funding for schools, expert says
Schools could face financial barriers for at least three years as school leaders face challenges on how to count students during pandemic
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Taking attendance is considered a pretty elementary thing when it comes to students and schools. However, this year, getting a true headcount is a really complicated equation.
La Crosse School officials are aware of students who are not connecting with teachers, and their absence may cause local schools to lose out on funding. The money schools get each year depends on the number of students who fill seats whether they are in person or at home.
This year, Wisconsin Public Education Network Executive Director Heather DuBois Bourenane expects enrollment counts to be inaccurate. The pandemic has created a plethora of problems for school districts to solve. Distance learning is expensive.
“Costs are rising,” DuBois Bourenane said.
The Internet is not an easy resource for everyone to have access to. Technology doesn’t always work even with the internet. Cleaning buildings takes labor and supplies. District leaders also weren’t planning on a virtual school year this time last year. Students this year will be counted between now until the due date for next year’s budget proposals.
“Districts’ budgets are due by October 15,” DuBois Bourenane said.
Money is already tight. According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 45 percent of school funding is from the state and seven percent is federal aid. The rest is from local taxes. When schools need more money, it’s the poor districts that have a hard time saying yes to more taxes to pay for schools.
“Wisconsin has some of the worst stats in the nation for serving students in poverty, students of color, students who are English language learners,” DuBois Bourenane said.
At a La Crosse School District Board meeting on Monday, La Crosse School District Superintendent Aaron Engel said they have had problems with students logging on for classes.
“We have had some students who have struggled to engage, and we have had teachers calling them directly,” Engel said Monday in a virtual meeting. “Some have even gone to houses to try to get a visual on the kid.”
It’s raising a big question for school leaders.
“How do we count attendance this year?” Engel said.
La Crosse schools lost more than 200 students last year.
“We might be down another 100 students this year,” he said.
Kenosha’s district is already down 1,300 students this year according to early numbers.
“That’s a significant reduction,” DuBois Bourenane said.
Funding is based on a three-year rolling enrollment average. So, enrollment won’t be a problem that goes away at the end of the year.
“An inaccurate count, if it’s really inaccurate in one of those years, is going to have a negative impact on the district, not just next year, but for three full years to come at least,” DuBois Bourenane said.
Engel said yesterday some families chose to home school students this year which affects the numbers as well. DPI officials say it is too early to know for sure how much of an impact this count will have on the 2021-2022 budget.