By Harold C. Ford
“Wednesday, October 7 – Count Day”: That’s the message that greets visitors to the website of Flint Community Schools (FCS) as the number of students present and accounted for on this day will determine the initial amount of state aid received by local school districts in the state of Michigan.
“Every student we get in attendance, we get roughly $8,000 for that pupil,” said FCS Superintendent Anita Steward in an interview with East Village Magazine (EVM). “And that is what we use to be able to educate our scholars. That is how we pay the teachers’ salaries, books, materials, furniture.”
“Count day is when all public schools in Michigan tally the number of students attending their schools,” according to a michigan.gov website. “Count information is critical to districts, because each student translates into state funding.”
“Pupils must be in attendance and receive instruction in all classes on the count day,” according to the michigan.gov website. “If a student is not in attendance, they may be counted if:
- The student has an excused absence and attends within 30 calendar days following count day.
- The student has an unexcused absence and attends within 10 school days following count day.
- The student is suspended and attends within 45 calendar days following count day.”
Local school boards determine what is an excused or unexcused absence. Oct. 7 is a “fall count” in the state of Michigan. A fall count determines 90 percent of state funding. The “spring count” on Feb. 21, 2021 will determine 10 percent of state funding.
Pandemic creates uncertainty
Some school officials, including Steward, are hoping for an amended approach to the student count formula for determining state aid due to the uneven start of the school year caused largely by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re hoping that is going to be amended during this unusual time,” Steward told EVM. “We still have to report (the Oct. 7 fall student count) as we normally would if we were face-to-face, which is one reason why we want all of our students to be connected, online, and engaged with their teacher…on October 7.”
With its balanced calendar, the first day of school for FCS students was Aug. 5. One week later, on Aug. 12, Steward reported to the FCS board of education that only 1,500 students were showing up daily. Kevelin Jones, FCS assistant superintendent, told EVM that, “We were down 2,000 children…”
In August, Operation Return to Learn sent FCS educators and volunteers into the district “feet to the pavement, out in the streets, going door-to-door…to connect with our families,” according to Jones. He reported on Aug. 26 that the number of missing FCS students had been reduced from 2,000 to 800.
“Currently we are over 3,000 students, less than 3,100…” Steward told EVM on Oct. 6. “I would love that number to eventually be 3,400.”
Steward said the state may do a “modified calculation” where a large percentage of it (student count) will be based on the 2019 count and then a smaller percentage of it” based on the Oct. 7, 2020 count.
FCS students began the 2020-21 school year with virtual/online instruction. FCS officials will periodically assess the status of the pandemic and determine if a return to face-to-face/brick-and-mortar instruction is possible and in the best interests of students and staff.
Engaged students through “active and consistent attendance” connected to student achievement
“Active and consistent attendance…is our greatest threat, outside of student achievement,” said Nikolai Vitti, Detroit Public Schools Community District superintendent, in a recent interview with Chalkbeat, an online education publication.
“Absolutely,” responded Steward when asked if she agreed with Vitti, “especially during this time of the pandemic. Being able to keep our students engaged during this online learning has been a challenge for us.”
Steward cited the work of “some amazing and remarkable teachers that have gone above and beyond the call of duty to get their kids connected every single day.” Supplementing the efforts of instructional staff, Steward said an FCS Wellness Team has been contacting students to encourage attendance and remove roadblocks to school attendance.
One of the roadblocks that FCS has endeavored to remove is access to technology. Toward that end, the district and its partners have been providing devices and internet access to students that
“We are in pretty good shape (in delivering) those items that our scholars are in need of,” said Steward.
EVM Education Beat reporter, Harold Ford, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.