The Grade Blog

Wednesday, Mar 19 2014 10:45 AM

State supt. promises drought relief for schools

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson listens to a presentation during a tour of Bakersfield College in this Sept. 12, 2013 file photo.

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BY LAUREN FOREMAN Californian staff writer lforeman@bakersfield.com

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson visited the 29th annual Farm Day in the City event Wednesday in Bakersfield to announce a budget relief program for school districts impacted by the drought declared in January.

"It is a huge worry. It is a huge economic impact, but many don't think what it's doing to some schools," Torlakson said.

He explained that less water means fewer crops and less work for families.

Those families and students, in turn, move to areas outside the Central Valley where there is better access to farm work.

Schools, paid according to average daily attendance, suffer as a result.

"So we're here to announce that districts that suffer any economic loss, because of the loss of students, that we will stand behind them," Torlakson said. "And as superintendent, I can make their budgets whole."

The relief program would not mean a windfall of new money but provide the funds the schools would have received had the drought-impacted students gone to school as usual.

Average daily attendance is calculated by dividing the total number of days of student attendance by the number of days of school taught during the same period.

When attendance drops in a district, so does revenue normally.

But California education code authorizes instructional time credits and attendance funding when emergency conditions force schools to close or attendance to drop.

Torlakson said over the next few months the California Department of Education will work with school districts and state senators throughout the state to identify districts that can demonstrate a decline in attendance related to the drought emergency Gov. Jerry Brown declared in January.

"What we're saying is because of the drought emergency, we can identify that schools are losing money that they otherwise would get," Torlakson said. "We want to replenish."

Torlakson said he hopes the water picture improves next year but the state is planning for the worst.

"We hope next year is a better year, but what if it's a two-year drought?" he asked. "Other schools will be in jeopardy as time goes on."

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