The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, November 28, 2021 1:00 am

County districts maintain gain

State uses fall count day to set schools' basic funding

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Calls for a student boycott on fall count day didn't upend Northwest Allen County Schools' decades-long streak of gaining students.

Like the three other Allen County public school districts, NACS saw its average daily membership – a term used in state code – increase.

These totals do not reflect student enrollment, stressed Holly Lawson, Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman. Enrollment reflects actual students in attendance Oct. 1, and that statewide data was being finalized as of mid-November.

Fall count day was Sept. 17, but the state Department of Education only recently released the final numbers, which are used to determine basic grant funding for schools.

NACS parents – notably the school board president's wife – began threatening in the spring to jeopardize fall count day so the district would lose state dollars. Some parents talked of home schooling their children. The threats were in response to mask mandates.

That thinking wasn't exclusive to the NACS community. A woman who addressed the East Allen County Schools board during the Sept. 21 budget hearing was skeptical of enrollment figures used in the financial plan.

She referred to rumors that public schools were experiencing “huge drops” in students statewide because of health department overreach and curriculum concerns. She doubted EACS would be an exception.

By then, Superintendent Marilyn Hissong knew the preliminary count, and she rebutted the speculation.

“It's actually a pretty significant amount compared to previous years,” Hissong said, “so we're excited about that.”

In fact, the average daily membership for EACS increased by 249 students from last fall, more than Fort Wayne Community Schools (141), Southwest Allen County Schools (116) and NACS (87), according to rounded state data, which counts virtual students as less than one. Figures provided by EACS and NACS show slightly different gains, 248 and 85, respectively.

The average daily membership for NACS “has increased every year since the 1980s, maybe longer, but we do not have that information readily available,” district spokeswoman Lizette Downey said by email.

Statewide, average daily membership rose by about 2,000 students for a total of 1,011,002, data show.

The two biggest differences between average daily membership and official enrollment concern pre-K and virtual students, FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said by email.

Fall count day tallies don't include pre-K because those students are not funded by the state, and virtual students are 85% funded – a reason average daily memberships won't be whole numbers.

Students are considered virtual if 50% or more of their instructional days from the beginning of the school year through the count date were considered “remote” or “virtual days,” Lawson said by email.

This fall, virtual average daily membership was 95 at SACS, 108 at NACS, 498 at FWCS and 72 at EACS, according to the state.

The Indiana Department of Education “is working with legislative leaders to allow schools to count instructional mode for the entire fall semester for funding purposes,” Lawson said.

FWCS' average daily membership – 27,895 – is the second-highest in the state. Indianapolis Public Schools has 30,373 students, up by 210 from last fall.

Stockman said FWCS' official enrollment also increased and did so by a greater amount – 281 – because of a significant increase in pre-K. The official enrollment is 28,937.

“We're always happy when our enrollment goes up, not only because it means increased funding,” Stockman said, “but because we have high quality schools and are happy when families choose FWCS.”

asloboda@jg.net

Average daily membership

District 2021 2020 Gain
Southwest Allen County Schools 7,775 7,659 116
Northwest Allen County Schools 7,919 7,832 87
Fort Wayne Community Schools 27,895 27,754 141
East Allen County Schools 9,996 9,748 249
State 1,011,002 1,008,982 2,020

Note: Counts rounded to the nearest whole number

Source: Indiana Department of Education


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