Now that we’re at the end of September, many school leaders are incredibly focused on the impending Pupil Count Day, which takes place on October 3rd this year. This is a critical day for public schools, especially charter public schools, since the vast majority of a charter school’s funding comes from Per Pupil Revenue (PPR). In very simple terms, PPR funding is determined by the number of students in your school on October 3rd.
As you can imagine, the smaller the school, the more each student’s funding impacts the operating budget for the year. For our rural schools and districts, the margins are slim. In fact, CSI authorizes two rural schools that are hovering around 20 students. Operating a school of 20 students seems like an impossible feat, particularly without any kind of subsidy. School leaders and boards are challenged with determining whether they can still fulfill their educational program with the extremely limited resources they have available.
However, even school leaders at larger schools are counting heads and trying to convince families to come to or remain at the school. Across the state, enrollment is down in many urban centers for a variety of reasons (see here for Denver, here for Aurora, and here for the state’s summary of districts with decreases), and the fight for students is real (see here for how busing impacts enrollment).
While many schools employ positive strategies to ensure student attendance on Count Day, like planning fun activities or having school pictures on Count Day, some schools can get downright nasty, causing ongoing tension between schools. When I was a school leader, I vividly remember another school leader calling to yell at me for stealing a student the week before Count Day, even when the parent made the decision to move the student without any persuasion on our part. To make matters worse, the parent shared that the former school’s leader told the parent that she wasn’t allowed to disenroll her student. Stories like these aren’t limited to students transferring from one district to another; it also happens across public schools within the same district.
Until the state changes the funding system to multiple count days throughout the year to ensure schools are receiving funding not based on one point in time, public schools will continue to face this intense struggle every year. In the end, we must remember that students will thrive in a school that is the best fit for them, and that families deserve choices in education. We MUST keep the interests of the student at heart, even if that means they choose to attend another school the week before Count Day. We can talk the talk, but to walk the walk, especially when the survival of our school is at stake, is extremely difficult. In the end, parents will choose the best option for their child, and we must respect that.