Typically, Michigan schools rely on one day in the fall to account for roughly 90% of their budget for the next year, but in the midst of a global pandemic, count day is different in 2020. Normally the funding is tied to the attendance of students on that day, but this isn’t a normal year.
“Essential teaching and learning is funded based on these count days,” said John Helmholdt, spokesman for Grand Rapids Public Schools. “Because this is a new style of learning, we need to really educate our teachers about how to account for attendance…”
With students attending class online this year, lawmakers and the governor are allowing a month – instead of a day in the fall and a day in the spring – to allow schools to get an accurate count.
“Which is exactly the flexibility we need right now,” said Helmholdt.
Whereas students would be counted on their in-person attendance, this year there are more ways for them to be included. Helmholdt says they can simply be counted during online class attendance, but they can also be counted when they turn in homework or complete lessons, or when they have two-way correspondence with a teacher like an email about an assignment.
Helmholdt says funding is always important, but especially so this year because of coronavirus but also because at the state’s multi-year, multi-billion-dollar hole in the school aid fund.
“This year’s school budget has been an absolute roller coaster,” he said. “Our original budget, the one we’re currently operating on, used all but 1% of the fund balance at a $650 per pupil cut. We, obviously, have some significant adjustments to make.”