GEARL LODEN: Tupelo Public Schools set eyes on absenteeism, funding losses

LODEN

LODEN

Sustaining high-quality and well-rounded schools requires having adequate resources. It’s just that simple. All the visionary ideas and best practices to reach our children do not mean a thing if the funding is not there. Talking about money can be somewhat sensitive; however, in the field of education, having an understanding of how it works can be empowering for every taxpayer and parent because it impacts every child.

In many states, schools are funded based upon their enrollment. This is a common sense approach since teachers have to be in place for all children enrolled. However in Mississippi, schools are funded based on how many students attend classes each day, commonly referred to as average daily attendance or ADA. These are the students that are actually in seats. Last year, a major change was put in place by the state’s political leadership which determines the funding that districts receive – it is known as ‘the 63 percent Rule.’ This means that students must be present for 63% of the instructional day (excluding lunch and recess) in order for schools to receive the daily rate of funding for that student.

Tupelo schools receive an estimated $25 per day per student. During the course of this year, that will translate into a little over $29.3 million. These revenues, along with local dollars, are then used for things like paying our teaching staff, providing students with the best available instructional resources and keeping our buildings safe and properly maintained.

By ensuring that our children are in school for 63 percent of the day, we ensure that the most equitable distribution of state funds is made available to our students. The long-term fiscal impact is a strong and economically vibrant Tupelo.

Like many organizations and businesses, our district has had to tighten its belt over the last four years. State funding cuts, calculated now at $16 million, make a high daily student attendance even more important to the strength of our schools.

Traditionally, the Mississippi Department of Education conducts their official student count by determining the number of students considered present during the months of October and November combined and calculate an average. They also examine a monthly average of the entire year. Funding is then determined by which of the two is the higher average. The reality is these months really matter.

Naturally, illnesses cannot be avoided and attending to your child’s health is always a priority. Doctors’ appointments and college visits sometimes cannot wait either, however, please consider scheduling these late enough in the day or after November. If this is not possible, we encourage you to check him or her back into school so that your child is considered present.

Since the start of this school year, TPSD students have been considered “absent” due to checkouts under this new rule, 2,800 times. This does not include those students who are absent for the entire day. That translates to nearly a $70,000 loss, enough to pay a teacher’s and an assistant teacher’s salaries for a year. If we continue at the current rate of absenteeism due to checkouts, the district could lose $280,000 annually. These are precious dollars to us and we want to ensure that we maximize all the funding available.

As educators, teaching and learning are really what we care about. Most educators are not passionate about the funding process, but as pragmatists, we have to be concerned with the financial outlook so that we can fulfill our mission as well as our vocation.

We are off to a solid and positive academic start these first nine weeks of school. We have enormously important work to do and every day matters in a child’s education. Now we know that in very practical terms, every day also counts financially.

Please visit www.tupeloschools.com to learn more about this new attendance information and check-out times that apply to each school.

Gearl Loden, Ph.D., is superintendent of the Tupelo Public Schools. Contact him through Mary A. Plasencia, MAPLASENCIA@tupeloschools.com.