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Last updated: Fri. Feb. 15, 2013 - 02:41 pm EDT

2nd school count comes with concerns

This year, Indiana joins more than 40 states around the country that count student enrollment on multiple days during the academic year.

The difference is that in Indiana, the data collected on the second count day, which takes place today, won’t be used to make funding decisions.

Not yet, at least.

Legislators are currently working on the state’s two-year budget, which would take effect in July. The budget will include a new school funding formula that may use enrollment numbers from today’s count day as a basis for per-student tuition dollars, according to a report from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

On the traditional count day in Indiana, which has always occurred on the second Friday after Labor Day, students enrolled in schools and districts around the state are counted. The data are entered into a formula that determines how much money per student a school or district will receive.

Across the country, a variety of different methods are used to determine school funding.

Other states that instituted two count days say the policy creates incentives for districts to retain and graduate students. But districts and schools with high rates of student mobility could be penalized and provided less funding without the flexibility to reduce staffing.

A law passed in Indiana last year requires schools to count enrolled students in February in addition to the regular count day. The law also terminates the current school funding formula on July 1, according to the report from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy.

According to the report, today’s count day will likely be the first count used in the new formula for funding that will be based on the state fiscal year, which runs July 1 to June 30, instead of the calendar year.

Districts expect the legislature to move schools from calendar-year to fiscal-year funding but are still unsure as to what the formula will look like and if the February count day will be incorporated, said Bill Mallers, business manager for Northwest Allen County Schools.

In September, Fort Wayne Community Schools counted 31,647 students, surpassing Indianapolis Public Schools as the largest public school district in the state.

FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said changing funding amounts midyear could create problems because the district’s contracts with teachers and administrators are for one school year. The district wouldn’t be able to add or reduce staff based on February count day numbers.

“That just isn’t going to work with school budgeting,” she said. “I think that’s the biggest concern.”

Smith Academy for Excellence Principal Thomas Smith said the count day won’t affect the charter school because enrollment is similar to what it was in September.

But another city charter school, Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy, has seen a dip in enrollment since count day. At a November board meeting, interim Principal Tameka Wilson reported the school’s current enrollment was about 100 students, down about 30 students from September. Wilson did not respond to requests this week for an update.

As part of the CEEP report, researchers looked at the funding mechanisms from other states.

Michigan has used multiple count days to fund schools since 1994, with data from winter and fall count days funding schools during the same calendar year. The February count day accounts for 10 percent of funding while the October data are the basis for 90 percent of funding. Payments are made from October to August, allowing schools to be paid based on current enrollment.

However the Indiana legislature decides to use multiple count days, the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy suggests lawmakers look at the differences between the numbers from September and today’s count.

The concerns of Fort Wayne Community Schools are acknowledged in the CEEP report in a recommendation that the state delay the inclusion of the February count day for a year to gauge how a second count day will affect funding. The report also suggests that payment schedules align with the most recent count data.

Stockman said it comes down to the details of the legislators’ formula and implementation. As long as there’s consistency, the district can work within the system. But Stockman said for schools and districts like FWCS with high mobility, there will always be changes from one count day to another.

“The legislature has talked about funding students where they’re at. We appreciate that, but we also understand that no matter when count day is, there will be a difference between count day and the next day or a week later. For a district like ours, that’s always going to be an issue,” she said.

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