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Coronavirus reduces West Michigan student enrollment more than public schools expected

MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo logo MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo 10/8/2020 By Melissa Frick, mlive.com
a little girl walking down the street: Students get off the bus at Northeast Elementary School in Jackson on Tuesday morning, Aug. 25, 2020. The first cohort returned to class Tuesday with the second half of the students returning to class on Thursday. © J. Scott Park | MLive.com/J. Scott Park | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Students get off the bus at Northeast Elementary School in Jackson on Tuesday morning, Aug. 25, 2020. The first cohort returned to class Tuesday with the second half of the students returning to class on Thursday.

Preliminary attendance numbers at public schools across West Michigan show the coronavirus pandemic has impacted student enrollment more than school leaders had originally anticipated – although a new school aid formula from the state will keep school funding from being slashed because of COVID-19.

a group of people that are talking to each other: Principal David Martini greets Grandville students with elbow bumps as they return to Cummings Elementary School on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. © Cory Morse | MLive.com/Cory Morse | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Principal David Martini greets Grandville students with elbow bumps as they return to Cummings Elementary School on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.

Some of the largest school districts in Kent, Muskegon and Ottawa counties recorded lower enrollment than administrators had projected for the fall, according to Count Day data from Wednesday, Oct. 7.

a group of people standing in a room: Students walk to their next class while wearing masks at All Saints Central Middle and High School in Bay City on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. © Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Students walk to their next class while wearing masks at All Saints Central Middle and High School in Bay City on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.

Attendance recorded on Michigan’s two annual count days – one in October and another in February – determines how much state aid funding each school will get.

But this year’s Count Day algorithm was adjusted so schools would not be penalized for lower enrollment amid the coronavirus crisis.

That means funding for Rockford Public Schools, one of the largest districts in Kent County, won’t take a hit even though the district recorded an enrollment decline of about 200 students compared to last year.

“The state legislature and the Governor worked on legislation this summer to help protect Michigan school districts financially from enrollment loss,” Superintendent Michael Shibler told MLive.

Prior to the pandemic, each school’s per-student state aid was based on 90% of the fall count, combined with 10% of the February count.

This year, the state is using a new “super blend” formula to determine district funding, said William DiSessa, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education.

The formula is a weighted blend of 75% of last year’s attendance and 25% of this year’s attendance. The new formula relies less on current student enrollment, preventing schools from losing funding if students left their district for homeschooling or other learning options during the pandemic.

RELATED: Here’s how Michigan students are being counted this Count Day amid coronavirus

Rockford recorded over 7,600 students on Wednesday, Shibler said. But the decline in fall enrollment did not come as a surprise to Rockford administrators, the superintendent said.

“We expected the loss because of the pandemic,” he said. “I also believe some of the student loss was due to parents homeschooling their children because of COVID 19.”

Rockford wasn’t the only district that lost students to homeschooling. Zeeland Public Schools had about 400 fewer students than the district had projected for the fall, over half of which were children who are currently being homeschooled.

“We had 240 students, mostly elementary, who dropped due to the pandemic and are now participating in a homeschool program,” Zeeland spokesperson Ginger Smith said. “Many families have indicated they plan to re-enroll after the pandemic.”

Zeeland recorded 6,039 students on Count Day, Smith said. That’s lower than what the district had anticipated for the fall, which was budgeted for 6,431.

Mona Shores Public Schools, the largest district in Muskegon County, also saw a decline in enrollment compared to what was projected for the fall, partially due to homeschooling. The district recorded 3,782 students on Wednesday after initially budgeting 3,900 students for this fall.

There were 57 students who left the district to be homeschooled this fall, and 95 students had moved out of the district, said Superintendent Bill O’Brien.

Forest Hills Public Schools, in Kent County, has 186 less students than the district had projected for the fall. Administrators recorded 9,451 students on Wednesday after initially predicting 9,637 students for the fall, Superintendent Dan Behm said.

It’s not just large districts that saw lower than projected enrollment, but smaller districts as well – although their gaps were not as drastic. Reeths-Puffer Public Schools, in Muskegon County, recorded 3,500 students after initially budgeting 3,572 students for the fall. Saugatuck Public Schools had 815 students Wednesday, just under its projected 820.

A few districts saw higher enrollment than they had projected for the fall. Jenison Public Schools, in Ottawa County, recorded 5,493 students on Count Day after originally budgeting for 5,420 students.

The district is up from last fall’s enrollment of 5,470, which Superintendent Tom TenBrink said is in line with Jenison’s increasing enrollment over the past decade.

“We’ve been on upward trajectory since 10 years ago when we had a low of 4,700 students,” he said. “But because of programs we have in place and the facilities we have, as well as we have some of the hottest homes on the market in Michigan right now, that’s advantageous for us.”

Holland Public Schools is up 68 students from what the district had projected for the fall. The district recorded 3,103 students on Wednesday. That’s still a decline from last spring’s enrollment of 3,188, but one the district had anticipated, said district spokesperson Jason Craner.

Ravenna Public Schools, in Muskegon County, recorded 1,003 students on Wednesday, up slightly from it’s initial projection of 994 students for the fall.

Grand Rapids Public Schools, the largest district in West Michigan, did not provide its exact Count Day numbers to MLive. But the district is “close to (its) projected enrollment of 15,330,” Superintendent Leadriane Roby said in a prepared statement.

GRPS is conducting online-only classes this fall and will need the next 30 days to accurately determine its enrollment, Roby said.

“The accounting for student attendance for virtual learning is different than previous years and will require us to fully utilize the 30-day window to account for all students attending GRPS,” she said.

“It is too premature to release a hard number at this time.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, districts across the state are conducting classes online, face-to-face, or a mix of both this year. Because each district is conducting classes differently, the state has given schools more flexibility in tracking attendance this fall.

Traditionally, school attendance is marked when students are physically in class on count day. But schools can now qualify for state funding by measuring student participation during virtual or hybrid instruction. This can be documented in the two following ways, according to the state education department.

The first is by documenting two-way interactions between a student and a teacher. The state defines two-way interaction as a face-to-face, email, phone, instant message or video communication initiated by a teacher with a response from a student.

In order to count for state-aid membership, two-way interactions must happen once in each class every week for four consecutive weeks after Wednesday’s Count Day.

The second is measuring attendance when a student participates in a course-related activity in each of their scheduled classes on Count Day.

In both ways, student participation can occur through attending a live lesson, logging into an online or virtual lesson, a phone or video call between a student and teacher or an email between the student and their teacher.

Muskegon Public Schools is also conducting classes fully virtual this fall because of the coronavirus crisis. Superintendent Matthew Cortez said the district has registered 3,514 students for the fall, which is down from last year’s student county of 3,594 but still within budgeted enrollment.

Cortez said the district counted 90% of its registered students on Wednesday and anticipates counting the remaining 10% within the 30-day count period.

Here’s how other West Michigan Schools fared on Count Day compared to their anticipated enrollment numbers:

Kentwood Public Schools has 9,250 students, down by 86 from its budgeted 9,336 students for this fall. The Kent County district had projected flat enrollment this year compared to last year.

Coopersville Area Public Schools has 2,616 students, down by 46 from its budgeted 2,662 students for the fall. The Ottawa County district had projected flat enrollment this year compared to last year.

Grandville Public Schools has 5,603 students, up by two from its budgeted 5,601 students for the fall. The Kent County district had projected flat enrollment this year compared to last year.

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools has 1,816 students, down by 14 from its budgeted 1,830 students for the fall. The Kent County district had projected an enrollment decline of 16 students this fall compared to the 1,846 students the district had in 2019-20. But Godfrey-Lee will also receive state funding for about 20 additional students, because of shared time students who attend a non-public school but take elective or special education classes with the district, said Superintendent Kevin Polston.

West Ottawa Public Schools has 6,506 students, down by 76 from its budgeted 6582 students for the fall. The Ottawa County district had projected an enrollment decline of 100 students this fall compared to the 6,682 students the district had in 2019-20.

To help you navigate this complicated fall, we’re pleased to offer you a simpler way to get all of your education news: Our new Michigan Schools: Education in the COVID Era newsletter delivered right to your inbox. To receive this newsletter, simply click here to sign up.

More on MLive:

Declining student counts at Washtenaw County schools could be offset by funding formula change

Enrollment down 250 students at Portage Public Schools

2 Genesee school districts begin phasing in elementary students to part-time, in-person classes

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