The Idaho State Board of Education last week approved a temporary rule allowing funding for K-12 public schools to be calculated based on student enrollment instead of daily attendance.
The change comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact schools for a third school year. Throughout the year, thousands of students across Idaho have been out of school after testing positive for COVID-19 or quarantining after a possible exposure.
“With so many students staying home this year, because they are feeling sick and quarantining, our public schools, system-wide stood to lose nearly $100 million if we funded the system based only on daily attendance this year,” Board President Kurt Liebich said in a statement.
The rule allows the use of average full-time equivalent student enrollment, instead of daily attendance, to calculate the average daily attendance numbers used to determine how the state distributes funding to public schools.
The State Board approved the same change last school year.
According to materials in the board’s meeting agenda, statewide daily school attendance rates in Idaho are normally at about 95% on average. But during the pandemic, some schools have reported attendance rates falling to as low as 80%.
“School districts and charter schools have indicated much higher instances of students being out sick at much higher rates than normal or remaining home due to quarantining,” the board materials said.
Schools across Idaho have had differing quarantine requirements throughout the year, with some districts requiring that students quarantine after possible exposure to someone with the coronavirus, and others leaving the decision up to parents.
Several district administrators and charter schools had asked the board to consider the temporary rule to allow student enrollment to be used.
Idaho Charter School Network officials submitted a letter to the board requesting the change and pointing to possible consequences charter schools could face without it.
“Idaho public charter schools are facing unnecessary cuts with potentially far-reaching consequences, caused by absences due to COVID,” Chairman Terry Ryan and Executive Director Blake Youde wrote.
“For one state agency, with the support of the health care community and the governor, to implore citizens to act responsibly by staying home when symptomatic or awaiting test results, while another penalizes those who do, is confusing and disingenuous and has put charter schools in an impossible and imminently dangerous position.”
The president of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials also sent a letter to board members and said the change to enrollment funding would help mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on schools. The letter said most districts had seen attendance rates that were between 5% and 10% lower than those reported before the pandemic.
The board plans to push legislation during the 2022 legislative session to make the change permanent.
“We are already working with legislators and stakeholders on switching to FTE enrollment-based funding permanently,” Liebich said. “We just can’t risk such a big funding hit this year. Our school board members, administrators and educators already have enough to worry about, and stable funding shouldn’t be one of them.”