Attendance problems could cost Lockhart ISD millions
From staff reports
If your kids are enrolled in Lockhart ISD schools but they’re regularly missing class, they could potentially cost the district millions in lost funding from the state this year.
School funding from the state is determined by average daily attendance rate, an area in which Lockhart ISD and other school districts are struggling this year as COVID-19 concerns linger.
The COVID-19 caseload in Lockhart schools paints a sunny picture of things well in hand, with just four active student cases in the entire district as Thanksgiving break began.
But due to quarantine requirements and other fallout from the pandemic, Lockhart’s daily average attendance lately has hovered below the 90 percent mark, well below the 95 percent average daily attendance rate LISD accounted for when making its annual budget, which is used to pay teacher salaries and other expenses.
Superintendent Mark Estrada said absences this year had resulted in a loss of approximately $900,000 in funding from the state.
And if it doesn’t get under control, it could get much, much worse.
“If we were to continue on with the same pace of our attendance for the rest of the school year, we would be on track to lose over $3 million, which would be a substantial amount of funding to lose,” Estrada explained.
Enrollment has grown substantially in the past two years, and is projected to grow even more. The city projects 300 more homes will be built in Lockhart this year.
“It’s about one student per rooftop,” said Estrada, who said cutting teaching positions due to a lack of funding was not a viable solution. “We can expect that we’re going to continue to grow, and with that growth comes a need for more teachers.”
Attendance problems can be chalked up in part to quarantine requirements. If a student has one or more symptoms of COVID-19, they must stay home and either present a negative test or face an extended period of absence before returning.
Estrada said he believed parents and students have become more comfortable with missing school and making up the work later since the onset of the pandemic.
“The positivity rate (in our area) is about 6 or 7 percent,” Estrada said. “We know the vast majority of kids missing school are fine, but we had 103 out on quarantine (recently).
“We’re working with (health officer) Dr. Charles Laurence and our advisory committee and expect to revise the quarantine requirements to match the risk of COVID in the community. Maybe if you just have one symptom, you don’t have to be out 10 days. Kids won’t have to be out as long. But we’ll do it in a way that (respects) science.”
Other contributing factors include a lack of bus drivers, which Estrada said has contributed to about 40 children missing school.
With secondary students, another issue has presented itself. Some high schoolers discovered last year, with remote learning as an option, that they could work full-time jobs while still completing their coursework.
With such instruction no longer an option, some students are opting to keep their jobs at the expense of attending class regularly, Estrada said. Anything over a 10 percent individual absence rate is considered excessive by the state, Estrada said.
“At the secondary level, we have a lot of students who will not earn credits because of attendance,” Estrada said. “They may be passing the class, but they are not there (the required) 90 percent of the time.
“We want them to think more long term. They need to graduate and go to ACC, or a trade school or get a four-year degree so they can potentially get a better job. Only fourteen percent of students who don’t get some kind of degree or certification will earn a livable wage in Central Texas.”
Lockhart ISD recently hired parent liaisons who are working with parents to get students back into schools. Funded by a St. David’s grant, the parents are reaching out to individuals with absences and, when appropriate, helping them locate the financial or mental health resources needed to get back into school.
Beyond that, Lockhart ISD’s only recourse is taking students with excessive absences to municipal court, where fines can potentially be levied.
Funding issues remain a concern, but Estrada said the other concern is making sure students get the education they need.
“We know COVID-19 has taken away learning opportunities for kids,” Estrada said. “It’s affected three school years now and has kids even further behind.
“We want kids to get quality instruction in person from the great teachers we have here in our district.”