June 28, 2011

Watchdog Institute Reports Student Absences Cost Schools Millions in Funding

A story released by the Watchdog Institute and KPBS reveals that California’s system of attendance-based school funding may do more harm than good. Last year, San Diego County schools lost more than $100 million dollars due to student absences.

A student with perfect attendance is worth about $5,230 to a San Diego County school. By the same token, chronically absent students (that miss 10 percent or more of the school year) can cost the school thousands of dollars. At Ramona Unified, 465 chronically absent students cost the school a combined total of $345,816.89 last year.

“Certainly when the state of California changed its financing of public education from enrollment to average daily attendance, it had an adverse impact on school districts, including ours,” Fallbrook Superintendent Dale Mitchell told the Watchdog Institute.

Each of the 50 states bases funding on student population, but students are counted in different ways. Some states look at enrollment, some only at specific days of the year. California schools used to be paid for excused absences with parent or doctor’s note, but the law was changed in 1998, causing schools to suffer.

Many are unhappy with California’s method of school funding, but an alternative to this system has yet to be determined. Randolph Ward, superintendent of San Diego County Office of Education told the Watchdog Institute, “We expect achievement, but the paradigm doesn’t say that. The paradigm says we’re paying for sitting in a seat.”

To read the full story and to search an interactive map of local schools and their funding, please visit www.watchdoginstitute.org.