State Board reverses course, makes enrollment reporting rule temporary

The State Board of Education changed course Monday and will make an enrollment reporting rule temporary instead of ongoing.

The issue has to do with how schools report attendance or enrollment to the state for school funding calculations.

The State Board has looked at the issue multiple times this year, including as recently as just two weeks ago.

On Nov. 23, the State Board approved a rule that would allow schools to use full-time equivalency enrollment numbers instead of average daily attendance in order to give schools flexibility amid disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

Fast forward to today. The State Board voted unanimously to reconsider action from Nov. 23. The board then voted unanimously to approve what is essentially the same enrollment reporting rule, only on a temporary basis.

Switching the rule to temporary allows the Legislature more control to weigh in with its own proposal in bill form. The temporary rule will expire when the 2021 legislative session adjourns. If the Legislature doesn’t pass a law, the State Board will begin the rulemaking process again in the spring.

There are also several other issues in play.

State Board members said they still don’t have complete enrollment and student data for this school year.

We already know that enrollment is down this year for the first time in more than 20 years. We also know more than 11,000 students who were expected to return to public schools this fall never showed up.

Debbie Critchfield

“In light of the fact that we don’t have a complete picture of the ISEE information and that will have direct implications with the funding and how all of that flows through to the school districts, we are bringing this action as a reconsideration to make it temporary only,” State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield said.

School funding is Idaho’s largest general fund expense each year, accounting for about $2 billion in taxpayers’ money. So any policy changes regarding funding or the funding formula are closely watched.

After the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, school administrators began to express concerns about how they would be able to track and report attendance when students were moving between various in-person, online and hybrid learning options and not actually present in a school building every day. They asked the State Department of Education and the State Board for a rule change that would allow them to average full time equivalency enrollment numbers for the calculations that drive school funding.

“One of the things we heard loud and clear was a formula based on (average daily attendance) was challenging, if not anxiety producing,” Critchfield said.

Under the temporary rule, 1,200 minutes or more per week (20 hours) counts as 1 FTE for grades 1-12. That aligns with the more recent practice of using four hours per day to count as a full day of attendance.

The 2021 legislative session begins Jan. 11.

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