While there are still a couple of steps to go before it is law (everybody sing along), Ohio’s next biennial budget was voted out of the Senate Finance committee yesterday and heads now to the full Senate with nearly 1000 pages of amendments.

One of these amendments addresses an important provision which has not received much media attention, added in the House version of the budget: a change to the way students are counted in traditional and joint vocational school (JVS) districts. By now we have all heard from the Ohio Auditor of State about “count week” – that magical five days every October where districts pull out all the stops (Spirit Day! Pizza Day! Pajama Day!) to get as many of their kids as possible to show up to school…in order to maximize the money the state provides to districts based on average daily membership, or ADM. Doesn’t matter how many kids are there in November or March or May, districts receive the same amount of money throughout the year whether there are more or less students in the school than in “count week.”

The House version of the 2014-15 biennial budget calls for traditional and JVS districts to certify ADM during the first full school week of each month, and to receive funding based on those rolling counts. By calculating ADM in this way, it is almost certain that school attendance on a random day in March will generally be very different than on Spirit-Pizza-Pajama-Baby-Animal-Day in October. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that students across Ohio are very mobile throughout the school year. The Senate amendment strikes a weak compromise by requiring twice a year ADM certification.

One assumes the main objection to monthly certification is the “possible administrative burden” on districts, but keep in mind that every charter school in Ohio must, and has always been required to, certify with the Ohio Department of Education their ADM every month during the school year. And this, usually with far less office staff than a district school building or central office.  No kid, no money.

When the difference between 280 kids and 285 kids is enough to make or break a charter school or a private school’s budget for that month, you can see how important recruitment and retention of students becomes. We would hope that some level of motivation to recruit and retain students all year – not just during Pajama/Pizza Week – would be seen as valuable in district and JVS schools by the introduction of this ADM framework.

Schools should receive funding to educate the children they have. Schools that have more children should have more funding. Those numbers can and do change regularly throughout a school year. Often, it is school choice and the search for the best educational options that motivate those changes. But often, issues far outside education dictate those changes – housing needs, poverty, and safety regularly compel families to move from city to city and their children from school to school.

Instead of assuming that the count in October is the same as the count in March or April, monthly counts in all schools would provide a proper picture of how the fiscal needs of educating children flow and change.

We urge the legislative conference committee to review this amendment and consider returning to the House version of the budget when it comes to monthly ADM counts across the board in Ohio’s K-12 educational venues.

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