Michigan schools prepare for vital Count Day

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Public school officials will be tallying on Wednesday, the day Michigan performs its official fall Count Day to determine the number of students statewide and figure out funding for each district.

Districts across the state are using a variety of methods, from social media to old-fashion email, to remind parents to send or bring their children to school on a day when bottoms in school seats equate to real dollars in education funding.

Michigan had 1,532,335 students in 844 school districts across the state in the 2016-17 school year. That includes 545 traditional public school districts and 299 charter school districts, or public school academies.

State aid to each district is based on the number of students legally enrolled on Count Day. To be counted, a student must be in attendance and receive instruction in all classes on Count Day, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

The fall count represents 90 percent of state funding, while the spring count, which occurred on Feb. 8, represented 10 percent of funding.

The two figures are blended to calculate state aid per student, which ranges from the lowest amount allowed at $7,631 up to $15,676 in Bois Blanc Pines on Bois Blanc Island which had two students last year.

Statewide, 405 districts receive the basic allowance of $7,631; 77 receive between $7,632 and $8,288 and 59 are at or above $8,289, according to a 2017 state Senate Fiscal Agency report.

In the Detroit Public Schools Community District, student attendance and enrollment is a moving target. New and returning students continue to enroll in September and October — well after the first day of school.

To ensure attendance numbers are as high as possible on Wednesday, DPSCD, the state’s largest school district, is offering free breakfasts and lunches on Count Day for parents at their children’s schools.

As of Friday, the district had 49,484 students, which is 960 students more than the district budgeted for the school year. With a budget of about $700 million for the 2017-18 school year, the district expects about $475.7 million in funding from the state, which includes a foundation allowance of $7,651 per student, a $99 increase from the previous school year.

The additional 960 students could mean about $7 million in additional funding in a district where 77 percent of the student population is economically disadvantaged.

DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai P. Vitti said his priority is to have students in class on time every day, but this week is critical to funding.

“An accurate count ensures the district receives funding for every student who is enrolled and in attendance. Our enrollment should exceed budgeted projections, and we are hoping to report an increase for the first time in decades, which is an indicator that we are headed in the right direction as we begin rebuilding our district.”

The district has launched radio and TV campaign to encourage perfect attendance every day with the theme “Every School Day Counts.”

It is also using social media, automated calls and special Count Day incentives to boost attendance numbers on Wednesday, such as a photo booth, free ID kit, smoothie taste test and science and math expo.

MGM Grand Detroit is sponsoring a School Count Day Takeover. Casino volunteers will visit Munger Elementary-Middle School for a day of educational activities, trivia games, arts and crafts and reading sessions. Students and staff will eat a lunch prepared by MGM Grand chefs.

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan is hosting a conversation with City Year volunteers to find ways to create vibrant communities where children thrive, DPSCD officials said. Seven schools will participate in the lunch-time discussions.