IDAHO — While schools want students to stay home if sick, officials are concerned chronic absenteeism could have long-term effects on learning and school funding.
On Thursday, the State Board of Education met to discuss several planning and policy actions – including how schools receive funding.
Traditionally, Idaho funds K-12 public and charter schools based on average daily attendance rates (ADA) — how many students are in class every day. Before the pandemic, SBOE Chief Planning and Policy Officer Tracie Bent said the state's ADA was about 95%.
However, Bent told the board that it has dropped to "80% attendance rates or even lower" over the last year.
During the 2019-20 school year, the Nampa and Boise school districts reported a 94% ADA rate.
This year, Boise School District spokesperson Dan Hollar said BSD's ADA rate hovers between 89% and 90% "depending on the day."
Nampa School District Communications Director Kathleen Tuck said daily attendance varies between grade levels. She said the district plans to add summer school courses and mentoring opportunities to help students "catch up."
"We recognize that two years of some kids struggling and losing a lot of opportunities to be in attendance has affected them," Tuck said. "We've added as many secondary courses as we can and are finding different ways to get kids through. We had a lot of makeup sessions last year where the kid just needed to finish a few extra assignments so we could put them on a track."
Nampa ADA rates:
- Elementary: 96% (2019), 92% (2021)
- Middle School: 94% (2019), 90% (2021)
- High School: 92% (2019), 89% (2021)
Both districts attributed increasing absenteeism to COVID-19.
"It was more health concerns. It was kids who were sick or had been exposed to the virus. Or the parents were sick and or somebody else in the household was sick," Tuck said. "So, they said they were just going to keep everybody home out of an abundance of caution."
In recent years, officials have pushed the state to change the school funding formula to one based on full-time student enrollment (FTE). The new model would provide districts with a more predictable annual budget instead of potentially losing funding due to students missing class.
Former educator and SBOE vice president, Linda Clark, pointed out that schools must provide resources for 100% of students, despite the average daily attendance rate.
"We still have work to be done to ensure that the funding structure for Idaho schools provides for every student that districts have to educate," SBOE vice president Linda Clark said.
With absentee rates still high, Tuck said attendance-based funding could hurt school districts around the state. She noted that any decrease in attendance would equal the percentage cut from annual budgets — which would significantly impact a rural school district.
"Those smaller districts still have to provide basic services to all of their kids," Tuck said. "So a 10% or 4% reduction can make a huge difference in your budget because you have less discretionary money in those smaller districts."
State officials approved a temporary rule switching funding from attendance to enrollment early in the pandemic to keep districts afloat. The SBOE voted to renew the rule on Thursday, extending it through the 2022-23 school year.
Still, Bent said student-based funding could be an ongoing concern.
"This is an issue that will need to be addressed because we don't expect to see an immediate increase in students attending school," she said. "Let's put it this way. There are less students getting that certificate for 100% attendance."
The rule now heads to Gov. Brad Little for approval.