On Wednesday, Oct. 3, GRPS announced a historic Count Day, with an increase of 160 students from the 2015/2016 school year. Celebrating this announcement, Superintendent Neal shared: “Today we join the ranks of a select few urban districts who have turned around and are experiencing growth.”
But this seems like a strange thing to celebrate. Aren’t all students in school? Why all the excitement to count students? Why is it such a big deal in Grand Rapids?
What is Count Day?
In Michigan, residents pay taxes to the state government, which is then sent back to the localities to fund individual school districts. The amount of funding for K-12 schools is tied to the individual students and follows the student from school to school. In West Michigan, the average per pupil funding is $7,511. The primary day to decide where a student is enrolled in school is called “Count Day,” and is generally the first Wednesday in October. Ninety percent of funding for the schools for the year is determined by the Count Day number.
Equality = Equity?
Not so fast! Michigan may have an equal system for school funding, but not necessarily an equitable one. In part this is due to the fact that, not all students are the same; and, not all students stay in the same school system for an entire year.
It seems obvious—not all students are the same. Poverty, disability, education level of parents—these are some but not all of the factors that impact students every day. Quoted in a recent article by the Detroit Free Press, Novi’s Superintendent Steve Matthews shared: ‘”My job is easier than other superintendents because they’re struggling with things I don’t have to struggle with. … I have to worry about a new fitness center, not that kids are coming to school without the right clothes for winter, or coming to school hungry or not having been read to the night before.” Providing equal funding does not address the real issue: not all students have equal needs. (Kaffer, Nancy. School Choice Not the Right Choice for Our Kids, October 2, 2016. Detroit Free Press.)
There are also wide variances in mobility—not all students remain in the same school district throughout the year. GRPS estimates that almost 30 percent of students face uncertain housing and are mobile during the school year–changing schools and changing school districts not just once, but sometimes three, four, or five times. And school districts that serve large migrant populations can see their student count swell at certain times during the school calendar, only to decline dramatically at others.
And finally, “choice” isn’t always an option for all kids. Not all school districts accept students from other districts. Some districts have either greatly limited or altogether opted out of schools of choice. The idea that any student can simply elect to attend school in a more desirable district simply isn’t always the case.
Count Day 2016
There are over 25,000 children under the age of 18 living in the city of Grand Rapids. GRPS wants to end the churn and focus on what is right for kids. Over the past five years, Superintendent Neal’s Transformation Plan has invested in what is working and on innovative solutions to education inequities. Bringing the kids of Grand Rapids back home to GRPS is what is right—for the community, for our families and for our children. That is why Count Day 2016 is so important.