School funding at risk; NASD allotment tied to attendance

Published 12:07am Saturday, November 9, 2013

NATCHEZ — A law that went into effect this year requiring students to be in school 63 percent of each day could impact the amount of state funding the Natchez-Adams School District receives next school year.

The law, which went into effect July 1, states any school aged child who is absent more than 37 percent of an instructional day must be considered absent for the entire day.

The percentage is based on a standard 330-minute instructional day, with 63 percent equaling 208 minutes.

A high school student, for example, could only miss two classes in a school day to be considered present for that day.

NASD Superintendent Frederick Hill said the law is something he’s been stressing to parents since before the school year began.

“Every opportunity I’ve had I’ve emphasized the importance of what this law means,” Hill said. “It’s something every parents needs to be aware of.”

A student absent for more than 37 percent of the day impacts the district in two ways, Hill said.

“If they’re not exposed to material in the classroom from their teacher, they’re automatically at a disadvantage,” he said. “Those students then have to get caught up, which might take away from what other students in the class are learning.

“Even if they do get caught up, it may not be as effective from when the teacher initially went over the material in the classroom.”

The other impact, Hill said, comes in how student attendance is calculated into the formula that determines how much each school district will receive from the state.

Since 1997, school districts in the state have received funding from a formula known as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, or MAEP.

The formula factors in a variety of things such as attendance and the percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunches.

Before the new law went into effect, each school district calculated attendance in its own way.

The NASD, for example, counted students who were present for half the day. Other districts, Hill said, might count a student who came to school at any point of the day as present.

“The law came from the inconsistently that was occurring statewide,” Hill said. “This is the first year the formula has been used, so we’re not exactly sure what the impact is going to be yet.”

Hill said the state will look at the district’s attendance records for the first three months of the school year to determine how much funding to distribute.

“I’m not sure how much of the new attendance is part of the formula, but it’s the biggest part of the formula,” Hill said. “When people ask how this law would impact their child, I tell them it’s going to impact them by the resources the district will have available to provide for their child.”

Most issues with district attendance, Hill said, are occurring at the high school where some students have a vehicle on campus or are checked out more frequently.

“If they’re checking out a minute earlier than required, they’re absent for the whole day,” Hill said. “It’s just a matter of getting folks to understand that this is the law now and there’s nothing we can do except comply with it.”