Enrollment decline can be concern for school districts

The number of students enrolled ties directly to the amount of state funding a district receives under the CARES Act—and if those funds are not spent by Dec. 30, they will return to the federal government.
By: | October 16, 2020
Getty Images: Nora Carol PhotographyGetty Images: Nora Carol Photography

Enrollment decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic can be a concern for school districts nationwide as the deadline to spend the Coronavirus Relief Fund in the CARES Act by Dec. 30 approaches. That’s because the number of students enrolled ties directly to the amount of state funding a district receives under the CARES Act. If those funds are not spent by Dec. 30, they will return to the federal government. The funding is based on a per-pupil formula under ESSA Section 1501(e)(3). Furthermore, states receive CARES Act funding in the same manner as funding is provided under ESSA.

According to John Helmholdt, spokesperson with the Grand Rapids Public Schools, education funding in Michigan is awarded under a per-pupil state foundation allowance that is a flat amount. In the case of the GRPS, the district receives $8,111 per student, which Helmholdt says it is the lowest-funded base foundation.

Helmholdt explains that based on the spring consensus revenue estimating conference, the state school aid fund was facing multi-billion, multi-year budget shortfalls equivalent of a $650 per-pupil cut. The district’s board of education approved a budget for SY 2020-21 based on the $650 per-pupil reduction, equivalent to $12 million in cuts that included the elimination of all but 1 percent of the district’s fund balance and also 111 positions, mostly non-classroom jobs.

For the fall consensus revenue estimating conference, Helmholdt says that the governor and state Legislature reached a budget agreement to hold districts harmless from further per-pupil reduction, maintaining the same foundation allowance as SY 2019-20, and adding a one-time $65 per-pupil increase. He also observes that restoring fund balance to 5 percent or more is a priority for the district.

“We are under the same deadlines [to spend federal coronavirus aid by Dec. 30] but are confident we are on track to meet all deadlines,” he says. “However, we join with school districts across the nation calling for greater flexibility with how and when the dollars may be spent.”

When questioned if the district is experiencing enrollment decline due to the pandemic, Helmholdt says it is still too early to speculate. The accounting for student attendance for virtual learning is different than previous years and will require GRPS a 10- to 30-day window to account for all students attending.

“Based on the total number of students enrolled through online registration, we are at or above our projected enrollment,” he says. “However, the average daily attendance has not reached 100 percent, so it is possible we may see an enrollment decrease.”

Texas is already taking some measures to address the decline in enrollment noted in public schools throughout the state because of the pandemic. That’s because fewer students means fewer federal funds.

In a press release, Texas Education Agency announced an extension for additional six weeks of the current minimum funding guarantee established for the pandemic. To be eligible to receive such extension, school districts are required to offer in-person instruction for families that prefer such model. As estimated by the Congressional Research Service, Texas received $1,285,886,064 in ESSER funds and $307,026,008 in GEER funds.

“This extension ensures that schools will receive their anticipated funding through the first eighteen weeks of the first semester regardless of changes to enrollment or attendance rates due to COVID-19,” explains the press release. “TEA will address whether further funding adjustments for the second semester are needed based upon information and data gathered between now and January 2021.”

Claude Bornel covers ELs and other Title I issues for TitleIAdmin, a DA sister publication.