Sunday, April 13, 2003

Change in counting of students proposed

Districts' funding would be affected

By Jim Siegel
Gannett News Service

COLUMBUS - A new proposal for counting Ohio students will provide more accuracy, but will also have a negative financial impact on many districts.

The House two-year budget includes a new formula for determining district enrollment for purposes of distributing state money - which is done on a per-pupil basis.

The current formula, which would remain in place through fiscal year 2004, counts students based on a three-year average from attendance taken during one week in October.

Rep. Jon Husted, R-Kettering, said districts use tactics to inflate their actual attendance, creating what he calls "phantom students."

The new formula requires districts to report daily attendance on a monthly basis.

Estimates show most schools would be hurt by the switch. Basic per-pupil state aid, not counting additional federal money or millions in parity aid, would increase 5.5 percent in the budget's first year - when the current formula is in effect. In the second year, under the new calculation, state aid is expected to drop 0.9 percent, even as the per-pupil funding rate increases to $5,230.

"For any district that doesn't have a 100 percent attendance rate, they likely are going to see a decrease in basic aid funding," said Susan Tavakolian, executive director of budget and planning for the Ohio Department of Education.

No district has 100 percent attendance.

She said the bill contains some provisions to soften the blow. It allows absent students to make up work and still be counted, and allows the state's eight largest urban districts to get 50 percent more state funding for each student above the prior-year's attendance rate.

The measure is opposed by school officials and some lawmakers. John Brandt, director of the Ohio School Boards Association, said this is his No. 1 fight in upcoming Senate budget debates. It penalizes schools for something they have little control over, he said.

"This is a way for the House to cut a few hundred million out of education without sounding like they're hurting schools," he said.

Brandt said schools can't do much to change the cost of a student who doesn't show up to class, a sentiment echoed by Rep. Bill Hartnett, D-Mansfield, a former school superintendent.

"If I have 25 kids in a sixth-grade classroom and two are absent, does the cost to run that classroom go down?" Hartnett asked.

Reporter Spencer Hunt contributed to this story.

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