Schools see significant decline in attendance

Attendance is down in Tulare County schools. Under current state policy, that means less funding, worrying administrators

TULARE COUNTY – Omicron has spiked the number of students out on quarantine all over again, and as Governor Gavin Newsom released his fiscal-year 2022/2023 budget, school administrators began to raise the alarm about declining attendance numbers.

In the first half of the school year, Woodlake Unified School District has average daily attendance (ADA) drop by 115 across their seven schools. Superintendent Laura Gonzales said enrollment is not down, but she’s concerned about the decline because student-generated ADA is how the school district operates.

“115 fewer, in terms of ADA, calculates to just over $800,000 [less] in next year’s budget if nothing changes at the state level with legislation,” Gonzales said. “We attribute that drop in number to having to quarantine, and that’s something that’s out of our control. We’re following the [state] guidelines.”

Visalia Unified School District, Tulare City School District and Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) have also all seen troubling declines in their average daily attendance. Tom Rooney, superintendent of LUSD, said Lindsay Unified’s attendance normally hovers around 90%, and is now around 75-85%.

Rooney said there is no way to know how much money Lindsay Unified has lost in average daily attendance at this point in the year, but he expects the state will step up and help provide additional relief for schools following a rollercoaster year.

“I have a feeling if attendance is down significantly statewide, the state will offer some type of reprieve,” Rooney said. “Districts can’t lose 25% of their budget because of attendance.”

The state of California has been setting the guidelines for schools around COVID-19 safety protocols and quarantine, which has undeniably affected attendance. The state also sets the rules for and allocates funding based on average daily attendance.

Governor Newsom and the state of California have thought of this, and have proposed some changes in the fiscal-year 2022/2023 budget proposal released earlier this month.

The proposal introduces changes to the ADA component of the Local Control Funding Formula and an increase of $2.1 billion to the Proposition 98 general fund to reflect a 5.33% cost-of-living increase in 2022-2023 and continuing declining average daily attendance. Prop. 98 was passed in 1988 intended to increase state funding for schools, and has been adjusted almost every year since. The Legislative Analyst’s Office states there is no evidence school funding is higher as a result of Prop. 98 funding formulas.

Gonzales said lobbying is also under way for legislative change by the Association of California Administrators (ACSA), but The Sun-Gazette received no reply from ACSA upon request for an interview.

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