An online tool that measures attendance at Austin public schools shows attendance at most of the district’s high schools is up a little. And an increase by even half a percentage point can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars more in state funding.
In Texas, public education funding is linked to attendance rates: Fewer students attending class means less money from the state.
After the state slashed funding to public education in 2011, many local districts started campaigns to improve attendance rates and, in turn, receive more state dollars.
“We’re looking to make sure that we were utilizing funding we had in the most efficient way possible, but then also examine nontraditional ways to bring funding into district,” said Michelle Jackson at the Round Rock school district.
Round Rock worked with Get Schooled, a national organization that tries to inspire students to attend school and get a high school diploma. Students can play online games about attendance or sign up to receive wake-up calls from celebrities.
Recently, Stony Point High School in Round Rock won a nationwide challenge by raising its attendance rate by 5 percent.
Two years ago, Pflugerville ISD hired two attendance specialists to focus on chronically absent students. Since then, the district raised its attendance rate by 2 percent. That may not seem like a lot, but Tim Terry at the district says it means an additional $1.1 million for the district.
“It gets pumped right back into district, in order to deter students from skipping school and other education programs,” Terry said. “It goes right back into the district, right back into the classroom to enhance the education environment.”
In 2010, AISD started the Every Day Counts campaign. The district held t-shirt and video contests to stress the importance of attending school.
One Austin high school improved its attendance rate by 5 percent in the past year: Eastside Memorial. That’s the school facing a possible state closure due to years of poor academic performance.
Last year Eastside launched a pilot project with Aim Truancy Solutions to reduce absenteeism. Principal Brian Miller says the most important thing is a relationship with students that makes them want to come to school.
“If they don’t feel like what they’re getting is important and connects with lives and gets to level in careers, whatever that is, college or workforce, then they’re going to eventually not come regardless of consequence,” Miller said. “The most important thing is connecting with kids and making that instructor, teacher-student relationship relevant to them.”
But Eastside was the exception. Eight AISD high schools saw attendance increase less than 1 percent. One school was unchanged. Five high schools saw slight drops.
AISD spokespeople were not available to comment on the recent attendance figures and what it means for the district. But according to a district fact sheet, it loses $45 in state funding for every day a student is absent from class.