The average daily attendance this year at Conroe ISD is below what the district budgeted for in large part due to COVID related absences, which may affect how much state funding the district receives.
According to the district, attendance for the first few weeks of school last year didn’t dip any lower than 97 percent. This year, attendance after the first week hasn’t gotten above 94 percent, even dipping as low as 87 percent on Aug. 27 as students are in isolation due to a positive COVID test, COVID symptoms, or were in close contact with someone with COVID. The district budgeted for an average daily attendance of 94.2 percent.
State funding for schools in Texas uses a district’s average daily attendance numbers to calculate how much each district receives.
“For each percentage point of attendance that we are lower than what we budgeted for, that’s roughly $2.5 million in funding,” Superintendent Curtis Null said. “Right now we’re running at about 89 or 89.5 (percent) is what our average is right now. So, you do that math and it’s potentially a $12 million budget shortfall there, if that happens.”
Positively, Null doesn’t think that the district will be stuck with a $12 million shortfall because it isn’t meeting its ADA. In conversations with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, Null said he has shared these concerns.
“He has assured me that the state is aware, that this is not a unique problem to us at Conroe ISD, and that there will be a plan coming from the state that will assist us with that funding loss,” Null said. “I have no idea what that plan will be.”
Null is confident that TEA will come up with a plan to address this issue but said that even if there are impacts to the district budget because of low attendance, the district prepared for this possibility while creating the budget.
The district received $64 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds from the American Rescue Plan, which is a federal stimulus package passed in March, specifically to help the district re-open safely and address student learning loss. In preparation for students being out due to COVID, the district set aside $12.5 million of these funds to offset any decrease in enrollment or ADA.
The funds will not need to be used because of low enrollment. This year the district saw an increase in enrollment above what it typically budgets for. Conroe ISD typically prepares for an increase in enrollment of 1,500 students each year. This year, the district saw an increase of more than double that.
If necessary, Null said the district has been careful with its budgeting and is prepared to dip into its fund balance.
“I believe whatever the state does will make it whole and we’ll be fine,” Null said. “But if there is any gap to be made up we have the ESSER funding there to help us.”
At this point he is not concerned with ADA funding. His priorities are keeping schools open and students and staff safe.
Written by Jamie Swinnerton