Michigan fails to correctly count students

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan has failed to properly count nearly 125,000 students every year, according to a recent study.

The consequences of a miscount are significant. Each district receives roughly $7,500 for each student it has.

Most of the students missed in the count — 100,000 of them — are mobile students, or those who do not attend for a full year of school, according to the study by the Education Trust – Midwest, a Michigan based nonpartisan  group that works to improve academic performance for students. Mobile students account for 6.7 percent of all Michigan students, according to its 2016 – 2017 Student Count Mobility Report.

The progress of a student who begins the year at one school and transfers to another school isn’t reflected in reports by either school, said Brian Gutman, the director of external relations for the Education Trust-Midwest.

“This lack of accountability is especially important for vulnerable student groups,” Gutman said. “Students that are Black, Latino or from low-income families are twice as likely as white students and more affluent students to change schools during the school year.”

Black, Latino and economically disadvantaged students are not the only groups that aren’t being properly reported on by schools throughout the state, Gutman said.  

Students with a diagnosed disability in grades 3 – 8 are also hidden from school accountability, Gutman said. That’s about 25,000 uncounted students.

Schools are required to report on the progress of a group of students only if there are at least 30 students who are considered members of that group, Gutman said.

“Two-thirds of our schools across the state aren’t being held accountable for the performance of students with special needs.”

Each year on the first Wednesday in October and the second Wednesday in February, schools  count their students so that per-pupil funding can be appropriately distributed.

Ninety percent of that per-student money is accounted for by the October count and 10 percent of it is accounted for by the February count, said Bill DiSessa, a communications officer for the Department of Education.

“It is extremely important that districts do accurate counts and that students are in the schools for these count days,” DiSessa said.

The state law describes multiple remedies for districts if students aren’t in attendance on those two count days, DiSessa said.

They still may be counted if:

  • The student has an excused absence and attends within 30 days following count day.
  • The student has an unexcused absence and attends within 10 school days following count day.
  • The student is suspended and attends within 45 days following count day.

Even with these processes in play, schools are still not properly accounting for students that change districts, Gutman said.

“The procedures that the department is talking about are there to make the process on the funding side more fair but they do not address the issue for mobile students,” Gutman said.  

DiSessa said, “The department is part of a larger discussion into possible educational reforms that will increase school funding.”

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