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  • Tony Wold, Ed.D.

The “New Normal” in School Attendance Part 2: It is about academic achievement and the finances

In the State of Texas, after multiple years of “hold-harmless” funding and where attendance rates have dropped and chronic rates continue to soar, the discussion has shifted in the legislature toward a possible shift from funding by Average Daily Attendance (ADA) to Average Daily Membership (ADM).

In the simplest of terms, an ADA state funds school districts only for students who are attending. A district that has a 90% attendance rate and has 100 students enrolled would be funded for 90 students. Using a 20:1 staff ratio they still need to hire 5 teachers and provide all the technology and instructional materials. Assuming the base funding per student was $8,000 that district would receive $720,000 total or ($7,200 per student) under ADA funding. If the state moves to ADM funding, the district would receive $80,000 more to provide services to all students.

There are currently only a handful of ADA states left, with the biggest being Texas and California. Proponents of maintaining ADA funding believe that districts will not have enough incentive to focus on attendance unless it is the method of payment. In theory, this may make sense, but the reality is that funding is reduced and often from the districts that have the greatest needs. This is an equity issue and I believe that those districts that remove politics from the equation and recognize that there benefit in focusing on Attendance in both ADA and ADM states.

The business office's reason for investing in a proactive attendance program is simple. In an ADA state, the return on this investment increases ongoing revenue. There however is a second benefit that is more subtle, but also why ADM states need to make attendance a priority. When students pass 10 days of absence each year academic performance drops. The statistics for chronic students and the correlation between failing courses and dropping out are well-defined. What also occurs when students miss school in ADM states is that more interventions are required to support students who are academically behind. When attendance improves, so does academic achievement, which will naturally reduce the number of students needing interventions. Since the intervention budget is already accounted for this frees up resources for more intensive support to those students who need them. I cannot think of a better return on investment from attendance than this as a Chief Business Official.

Going back to the concept of school funding, California chose to remain an ADA funding model in 2022 – 2023. The Governor and Legislature recognized the lower ADA from the 2021-2022 school year would negatively impact school budgets and enacted two positive changes for LEA budgets:

  • The move to a 3-year averaging of ADA for funding to reduce the impact of declining enrollment and lower ADA rates.

  • The additional adjustment to the 2021-2022 ADA component of that 3-year average has a calculation adjustment based on the historical ADA rate of the LEA to create a proxy ADA.

  • Both measures allowed LEAs to have a “soft” landing in the current 2022-2023 budgets using the 2019-2020 ADA (twice) and the proxy 2021-2022 ADA to produce the funded ADA.

  • The goal was that the current year would see attendance return to previous rates.

School Innovations & Achievement created a “first look” sampling of the actual attendance rates of over 1 million students for LEAs in 2022-2023. The results of this analysis produce some concerning trends for Business leaders to consider as part of their First Interim Adjustments.

  • The average ADA for the first 30 days of this year was 93.09%

  • This is 2% above the average from the previous year, but still has the average student missing 12.4 days of school

  • The new range of ADA for LEAs across the State is between 90% - 93.5% as of this “first look”

The chronic rates remain in the 30% - 40% rate with the highest numbers in the TK-3 and 9-12 grade spans. The potential for a generational academic crisis grows the more lost learning days add up.

As California LEAs finalize their First Interim, they will need to account for the fact that the current 3-year ADA averaging will result in LEAs dropping the 2019-2020 high year and replacing it with the current 2022-2023 rate.

To illustrate the impact of this change we included this chart for a 10,000-student district with a declining enrollment of 100 students each year (9,700 enrollment in 2022-2023) and using the 95.82% ADA in 2019-2020, 91.01% for the 2021-2022 rate, and 93.09% for the current 2022-2023 rate.

Viewing this LEA, the result of replacing the high year 2019-2020 (9,582.00) with the current year 2022-2023 (9,029.73) creates a reduction of 552.27 ADA with the impact spread out over 3 years. Using an average LCFF funding for an LEA of $13,527 this is a reduction of $7,470,556. To borrow a concept from the NFL when a player is released it creates a “dead cap” number and some of these cover multiple years. For this LEA in California the impact of our “new normal” would be a “dead cap” of $2,490,185.43 for the next 3 years.

This does not even discuss the academic losses for not focusing on attendance. What is clear for all educational stakeholders is that the time is not to make a concerted effort to focus on restoring attendance habits. The loss of resources above for that fictional district is all too real in many LEAs. Moreover, the higher chronic rates will require even more interventions in the future, with declining resources. School Innovations & Achievement has a research-based approach that is showing positive results with our partner districts. The average district is up in attendance by more than 3% compared to those LEAs that do not have a comprehensive focus. With all that educators have on their plates, expecting the current staffing levels to do more is not realistic, and having a partner like SI&A can make an academic difference for a generation of students.

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