BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer email@example.com
Schools all over the state are seeking an accurate count of this school year's impoverished, foster and English learner students now that a new state funding formula allocates extra money for educating them.
The 2013--14 state budget that the governor signed in June contains a base per-pupil funding level for all schools, and supplemental funding for schools with high-need students.
But in order to get that supplemental funding, schools need to let the state know the number of those students enrolled. The question is how.
Affluent and economically diverse schools can tap data already being collected. Poor schools, on the other hand, have some research to do.
If at least 80 percent of enrolled children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, a school is allowed to serve all meals at no charge in order to reduce paperwork. Those schools have to re-establish eligibility every four years.
The state isn't accepting old data from schools well into that four-year cycle. Those schools will have to gather information on how many of their students are living in or near poverty.
And since the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the National School Lunch Program, has strict rules about how the free and reduced-price school meals application can be used, schools are sending out so-called alternate income forms to get a handle on student poverty levels. They're working overtime to educate families on the importance of filling out and returning those forms.
The California Department of Education plans to count foster students enrolled in schools based on a match with statewide foster data maintained by the California Department of Social Services.
Other demographics, such as English fluency, are already tracked through the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, or CALPADS. That's a database of student information that all public schools must collect for state and federal reporting purposes.
The importance of getting an accurate student count is critical, school officials said.
"There's a lot of concern among schools about a possible undercount" of high-need students, said Mary Barlow, assistant superintendent of administration, finance and accountability at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office.
The Arvin Union School District has almost 3,200 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and nearly 90 percent of them get free or reduced-price meals.
The district has mailed the alternate income form to parents rather than entrusting the important paperwork to children's backpacks, said Superintendent Michelle McLean.
"We want to make sure we're getting all the funding that we're entitled to," she said.
The Delano Joint Union High School District sent a letter with the form explaining its significance, as well as a self-addressed, stamped return envelope.
Superintendent Rosalina Rivera said she's confident the district will get a good response.
"It's a little daunting because it's difficult for parents to provide all this personal information," she said, "but our parents trust us, and once they understand that it's to make sure we have the resources we need to help their children and make the system better for everyone, they will do it."