Author: Jennifer VanBuren
Raising your hand and saying, “Here!” is as big a part of school history as the little red schoolhouse. But do you know why schools make such a fuss over attendance? What’s the big deal if I take my son out of school for a couple of days to visit Grandmom? Do I really need a doctor’s note? My daughter just has a stomach bug! Why did they send this scary notice warning that a criminal truancy charge may be filed against me in a court of law?
Everyone knows it’s important for children to attend school. Missed academic opportunities can never be regained, even after completing make-up work. Children miss out on opportunities to make friends and form social bonds that come along with shared experiences. With increased pressure to perform on standardized tests, school personnel are more anxious than ever to get students into school every possible moment.
This all seems obvious, but even the most informed and involved parents and community members may not be aware of a huge incentive for schools to get as many kids in the door as possible every day.
Hanging over every child’s head as attendance is taken is the ever-present, ever-powerful dollar sign. The Foundation School Program (FSP) is the primary source of state funding for Texas school districts. Districts receive FSP money from the state based on average daily attendance (ADA.) If a child is not in school during attendance, the district will lose FSP funding.
A teacher, principal or superintendent may excuse the temporary absence of a student for any reason they find to be acceptable. However, the student might not be counted as present for FSP (funding).
The school is still be eligible for FSP funding if the absent student is:
With an approved staff member in a school board approved activity, such as UIL competition
At an appointment with a healthcare provider but returns to school with a doctor’s note
In a dual certification program or the Texas Virtual School Network
A Medicaid-eligible child participating in the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment program
Observing a religious holy day when it is a tenet of their faith, including one day of travel to and from the site
Participating in a mentorship needed to complete the Distinguished Achievement program
Attending a required court appearance
Sounding “Taps” at a military honors funeral held in Texas for a deceased veteran
Serving as an election clerk
Taking part in his own United States naturalization oath ceremony
A junior or senior visiting a college (maximum of two days for each year)
Wait a second! What if my kid has a 103° fever and red splotches in the shape of the Hawaiian Islands across his chest? Does the school still lose funding? Yes. While an absence is excused in the eyes of the school, the state bases its FSP funding on whether the child is in the building during attendance.
What about credit?
To receive credit for a particular course, a student must have attended at least 90 percent of the classes.
Interestingly enough, even absences excused by the school (i.e. sick with a fever and a parent note) do not count toward the 90% attendance required for course credit. However, a student or his parent may file a petition for class credit and an attendance hearing committee may grant the student credit in extenuating circumstances. The school board must establish ways for students to make up work or regain credit due to extenuating circumstances.
While the state sets definite standards on how daily attendance affects state funding, individual schools and districts vary in their definition of excused and unexcused absences and how they are handled. Districts have policies on how parents are informed, when doctor’s notes are required and the amount of time a student has to make up missed work due to excused or unexcused absences. Keep in mind that an excused absence according to the school may or may not be excused for the state.
Just the facts
The 2012-2013 Student Attendance Accounting Handbook is 292 pages long. Thank goodness Austin Independent School District has put together what they refer to as the “Attendance Cheat-Sheet,” designed to help parents understand the main codes of attendance, some of which are discussed in this article.
The law requires a student between the ages of six and 18, as well as students enrolled in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, to attend school and district-required tutorial sessions unless the student is otherwise legally exempted or excused (§ 25.085)
A student may not be given credit for a subject unless they have attended 90% of the classes for that year (§ 25.092)
If a student is absent without excuse for three or more days or parts of days within a four-week period, the school will send a warning letter to the parents stating that they may be filed upon in a court of law for a criminal truancy charge (filing is still optional) (§ 25.095)
If a parent does not respond to warning letters, that parent may be charged with a criminal offense (§ 25.093)
If a student is absent without excuse for 10 or more days or parts of days within a six-month period, the school must file criminal truancy charges against the parent(s) and student (§ 25.094)
On average, a school will lose $40 a day per student absence. AISD stands to lose $45 every day a student does not show up for school. Does this mean that we should send students to school every day regardless of their health? Should we send kids to school instead of attending a family funeral? Families and medical professionals must determine what is best for individual students. However, it might behoove us all to factor funding into this decision-making processes.
Jennifer VanBuren, Georgetown mother of three, enjoys translating pages and pages of legal educational lingo into a language Austin families will hopefully find to be more helpful.