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‘At-risk’ student count is up, virtual school enrollment is down; numbers will help guide Lawrence school district’s budget

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The Lawrence school board on Monday will be updated on the district’s current student counts as part of planning for next year’s budget.

The district’s full-time equivalent enrollment count this year was almost flat, at 9,977.3 — down 8.3 from last year, according to a report in the school board’s meeting agenda. That’s the main factor the state uses to determine how much funding a district gets — this year, $4,846 per student.

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At Monday’s meeting, board members will hear a report from Cynde Frick, executive director of finance, that drills down into data collected on Sept. 20 about “at-risk” students and other specific enrollment numbers that play into how much state funding the district receives.

The report includes unaudited student data from a Sept. 20 enrollment headcount, a number that is reported each year to the Kansas State Department of Education. The report notes that the enrollment numbers will likely decrease once they are audited.

The number of students who qualified for free meals on Sept. 20 is the count the state uses to determine the district’s “at-risk K-12 weighting.”

According to the report, this year’s number of students qualifying for free meals is higher than any of the five years prior — at 3,566, or 35.3% of all students, compared to 2,365 students in 2021-22. That’s nearly a 51% increase. The free meal weighting for 2022-23 enrollment would equal about $8.36 million in funding for the district, according to the report.

The average number of students qualifying for free meals in the three years leading up to the pandemic — 2017-18 through 2019-20 — was 3,250, according to numbers in the report. This year’s total represents a nearly 10% increase from that average.

The report also shows there were 52 preschool-aged (3- and 4-year-old) students on Sept. 20 who met at-risk criteria, which include those who qualify for free meals, are in single-parent families, are experiencing homelessness and more. Funding based on those student counts is weighted a little more heavily than at-risk K-12 students, and equal to about $126,000 for the district.

Enrollment in Lawrence Virtual School dropped by about 190 students this year, according to the report. That enrollment is funded differently, and the drop could mean a loss of about $1.06 million in funding for the district.

The district receives “high-density” at-risk funding from the state if 50% or more of all students qualify for free lunches, or if individual schools have at least 35% of students qualified for free lunches. The district’s current high-density weighting means it would receive $800,559. This weighting ends after this year and the Legislature must renew it in order for it to continue into 2023-24, according to the report.

The state uses the K-12 free lunch headcount to determine weighting for at-risk funding; however, the report notes that qualifying for free meals doesn’t necessarily mean a student is at risk. Other criteria for “at-risk” status include those who are not set to move on to the next grade level or to graduate; have high rates of absenteeism, repeated suspensions or expulsions; are houseless or have migrant status; are identified as English language learners or dyslexic; or have social-emotional needs that deter them from success, according to the report.

The report also takes into account state Legislature decisions and includes amendments the district wishes to make to its application for ESSER III (federal COVID-19 relief) funds.

KSDE believes that for 2023-24, the state will increase per-pupil funding “by the average percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) in the Midwest region during the three immediately preceding school years,” according to the report. “This will be calculated in April 2023.”

Here’s the full report from Monday’s agenda:

20221114-USD-497-Budget-Update

The district also hopes to see the Legislature increase funding for special education. Kansas law requires the state to provide 92% of the extra costs of special education, but the Legislature hasn’t met the requirement since 2011, according to the Kansas Association of School Boards. KASB said the current level of funding is at 71% statewide, and districts are having to divert funds from general education programs to pay for special education costs, the Kansas Reflector reported.

On the board’s consent agenda*:

* a list of items that are considered routine and generally approved in one motion without discussion:

• Payment for sidewalk repairs: The board will look to approve payment to the City of Lawrence for $33,336 of sidewalk improvement repairs, to be paid out of the facilities and operations capital outlay fund.

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As part of the 2021 Lawrence City Sidewalk Improvement Program, the city will make repairs to several sidewalks adjacent to eight district schools: Cordley, Hillcrest, New York and Pinckney elementary schools; Liberty Memorial Central and West middle schools; and Free State and Lawrence high schools.

• New contract: The board will look to approve a new contract with Panorama Education meant to help the district interpret data. The contract, to be paid from ESSER III funds, is not to exceed $176,700 for a three-year agreement, according to the meeting agenda.

Panorama helps K-12 school districts “collect and analyze data” about family and community engagement, school climate, student voice, and teacher and staff engagement, according to the meeting agenda. 

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Meetings are open to the public, livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel and broadcast on Midco channel 26. Full meeting agendas are available at this link.

To give public comment virtually during the board meeting, email PublicComment@usd497.org by 6 p.m. on the day of the meeting to sign up to participate by Webex video/phone conferencing.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

— Lawrence Times reporter Mackenzie Clark contributed to this article.

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