State Journal

Parents on Notice: Absence Is Costly

One district shares pain from California policy.

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Parents in one California district now experience a tug on their consciences—and their wallets—when considering whether to pull their children out of class for family vacations.

Fed up with the loss of state aid because of absent children, schools in the 2,800-student Scotts Valley Unified School District, near Santa Cruz, have begun asking parents for donations to compensate the district in the case of voluntary absences.

The program started in January in an effort to raise money in a district where a 5 percent drop in enrollment has resulted in decreased funding from the state. According to a letter to parents, the district lost $223,500 in state aid last year because of absences, excluding sick days. That amounted to about 1 percent of its $18.6 million K-12 budget.

The letter, titled “If You Play, Please Pay” and sent home with every child, asked parents to consider making a donation of $36.13 per day of absence to the newly created Elective Absence Fund. The money will be added to the general district fund to cover costs such as teacher salaries and facility maintenance.

The district has received more than $2,000 in donations since the letter went out.

Parents’ reactions have been “overwhelmingly positive,” said Brenda Spalding, an assistant to Superintendent Susan Silver. Parents understand that the notice was not a bill, and that the district will not follow up with them if they choose not to pay, she said.

Stephanie Espinola, a parent at Brook Knoll Elementary School, said she feels no pressure. “If asking me to pay to take my child out for a vacation helps our schools, I am OK with doing so,” she said.

Under California’s school funding formula, each district receives state aid based on its average daily attendance. While some other states, including Idaho and Kentucky, use similar methods to determine aid—in some cases requiring that attendance be taken twice a day—most base funding on monthly averages or enrollment taken at certain intervals, which does not emphasize student attendance as heavily, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ education finance database.

So far, Scotts Valley, located 30 miles south of Silicon Valley, is the only California district to send such an appeal to parents, but Ms. Spalding said other districts have expressed interest.

See Also
See other stories on education issues in California. See data on California's public school system.

Vol. 26, Issue 31, Page 19

Published in Print: April 4, 2007, as Parents on Notice: Absence Is Costly

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