MARQUETTE - Beginning this year, new legislation will change how schools are funded - in a big way.
Instead of paying a district the full per pupil allotment for a student who may have only attended a school in that district through half of the school year, that foundation allowance will now stay with the student and go to whatever school district she attends.
"Now, the foundation funds follow the student through the year," said Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency Superintendent Steve Peffers. "A student starts in school district A for the first two months of the year, transfers to school (district) B in November and is there for six weeks and transfers back to school (district) A, that school (district) B, they will be allowed to come back and invoice school (district) A for the amount of time that they were there."
While administrators look forward to the change, they are also worried at the potential difficulties that will come along with such detailed record keeping.
"It's going to become a bookkeeping nightmare for schools who have a lot of students transferring in and out," Peffers said, adding that no provisions are currently in place detailing how each district will collect the extra money, or be forced to pay it out. "The mechanism for invoicing has not yet been determined. I don't know if that means we invoice the state, invoice the district where the student came from, we're not totally sure yet how that is going to happen."
Gwinn Area Community Schools Business Manager Amy Luoma, addressing the district's board of education during their regular meeting Monday night, said that because the district doesn't keep track of the number of students who transfer in and out, it's too soon to tell whether the funding change will be a boon for Gwinn.
"In theory, it sounds great, but it will be interesting to see at the end of this year, what that really means to us in revenue," Luoma said. "We've never tracked that before. I don't know what that's going to mean. I don't know if we lose more (students) than we have coming in and at what points. In the end, it could end up being close to a wash. We just don't know.
"The upside is, kids that transfer in after count day that we've never been able to grab money for, we can do that now, so that we can educate these kids, because we used to educate them basically for free for a year," Luoma added.
In previous years, school districts were allotted a per pupil foundation allowance that was based on the number of students in each school within the district taken from a tally conducted on two count days: the first Wednesday in October and the second Wednesday in February. Though the student counts are blended, 90 percent of funding comes from the October date.
The count days essentially told the state how much state school aid funding should be provided to each district for the entire year, regardless of new students that transferred into the district, or old students who transferred out after the count days. As a result, many school districts were either receiving money for students who were no longer attending school within their district, or were not being funded for educating students who transferred in.
Now, as provided in Section 25 of Pubic Act 201 of 2012, essentially every day of the school year will be a count day.
However, questions still remain on how each district will be responsible for keeping track of their students, and where they should petition for the extra foundation allowance - whether it may be from the district the transfer student came from, or directly from the state.
"There's something every year, that we go, 'Whoa, how are we going to handle this?' And of course, we don't really know yet," Luoma said.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.