How school systems use ‘count day’ differently across West Michigan

WEST MICHIGAN -- Attendance at Michigan’s public schools was a little more important today.

It was count day, when public school systems across the state tally up enrollment numbers to submit for state funding.

Each student correlates to a certain dollar amount in funding and in Michigan, K-12 students in the same public system are worth the same number. But children who weren’t in class today won’t necessarily throw off the balance.

“There are exceptions,” said Dr. Michael Shibler, superintendent of the Rockford Public School System. “If it’s an unexcused absence, like skipping, let’s say…they have ten days in order to confirm they’re a student here.”

And excused absences, like sick calls or family vacations, allow the student to be added to the count as long as they show up to class within 30 days of count day.

Though the goal is the same – to get as much possible funding based on numbers – certain schools put more hype around count day than others. Rockford doesn’t necessarily make a calculated effort to get kids to class – Shibler says they should be there anyways – but some schools will offer incentives and bombard parents with reminders.

GRPS finds the middle ground, sending a handful of emails, text blasts, and robo calls to parents to remind them count day is approaching. But according to spokesman John Helmholdt, GRPS uses count day to highlight a systemic issue with the way Michigan schools receive money from the state.

“The issue is really this flat, per pupil foundation allowance is really not designed to meet the needs of every child,” said Helmholdt. “We know it costs more to educate a high schooler than it does an elementary yet they each get the same flat per pupil amount.”

In a perfect world, Helmholdt says, the funding schools receive would be spread where it’s needed most. But that’s not the case. According to a study conducted by Michigan’s own legislature last year, Michigan falls behind the national average for per-pupil funding by about $2,000.

“This is all about making sure our classrooms have the necessary funds to support teaching and learning,” said Helmholdt.

There’s another count day in the spring, taking into account pupils who have moved, dropped out, or otherwise left the school system. However, the fall tally equates to 90% of the funding the system will get the following year – the spring count only equates to the remaining ten.

“Every school district has their own priorities and they have their own challenges,” said Dr. Shibler. “Quite frankly what’s really important, the bottom line to me, is to make sure every child has the opportunity to have the best possible education they can receive.”

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