Covering School Funding in Time of Crisis

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The COVID-19 crisis has interfered with many functions that could result in long-term changes. At-home workers might become more plentiful after the crisis passes (perhaps even helping to solve the problem of crowded freeways); limited sports seasons may lead to fewer games in the future on basketball and baseball schedules; and even consideration of California’s school funding through Average Daily Attendance might get a second look.

Governor Gavin Newsom said it is probable that schools will remain closed throughout the remainder of the school year.

Newsom expects the federal government to provide waivers to school districts which receive federal funds using school attendance as a factor.

Likewise, the legislature has prepared to keep the school districts financially whole by passing AB 117 to offset any loss of funding because of COVID-19 school closures. The bill states that the bill would deem instructional days and minutes requirements met during the period when schools are closed due to the virus.

California schools are funded on the basis of Average Daily Attendance (ADA). The ADA is calculated on the number of children actually in attendance in a school or district each day school is taught. Without state and federal intervention to change the rules, schools’ budgets would be devastated.

The advantage of ADA is that school authorities and parents will see to it that students attend classes.

Like regulations in other fields of endeavor, the school funding rules have fallen, at least temporarily, to the virus’s interference with normal circumstances.

While a handful of states use ADA as a funding calculus, a larger number of states base funding on Average Daily Membership (ADM). ADM is based on total school enrollment so if attendance is down, the schools don’t take a financial hit.

Advocates for ADM argue that poorer school districts suffer under ADA funding schemes because attendance rate is often lower. Also, administrative record-keeping and counting would be reduced under an ADM system.

Perhaps this crisis will bring re-evaluation of ADA funding. Re-thinking school funding on an ADA basis is worth considering because of the continued drop in student enrollment in California schools.

That is a discussion for another time. For now, state and federal governments are responding as they must during this unprecedented crisis.

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