The third Friday of September is always an important date for Wisconsin schools to count students, but between the pandemic and multiple learning options, there is concern over how it will turn out.
Enrollment influences funding for the next few years and the count applies to public, choice and charter schools.
"There’s always some concern around Third Friday, but this year it feels especially heightened," said Megan O'Halloran, School Board Director at Milwaukee Public Schools.
O'Halloran says educators have come to her concerned about getting an accurate count of students, adding the under-count may apply to students learning remotely or switching schools.
"One of the challenges with the technology is that we have students who have moved who maybe have challenges with having their phones cut off. We really view this as an equity issue that we have a unique set of challenges with our students," said O'Halloran.
Due to internet issues on Friday, Kenosha Unified School District announced they would call families of virtual learners who could not connect with a teacher at least once during the day.
"There is definitely concern about whether or to what extent people will see in enrollment. I don’t know how much of it is playing out in reality in particular districts. I’m sure a lot of districts are seeing at least some decline," said Daniel Bush, Director of School Financial Services at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Bush added the concern is more the uncertainty of what the counts will be and the impact. It comes as schools try to figure out how to keep educating kids through virtual and other settings while facing increased costs and not much extra funding.
"Public school funding is going to be fairly steady at least on a year-to-year comparison this year but really it’ll be next school year that the way all the current laws are set up that they’ll really feel a steeper drop," said Bush.
Funding for choice and independent charter schools is based on a fixed per-pupil amount from the state. Bush said any change they see will be very immediate this year.
"The risk here really is losing funding at a time that our children need it the most," said O'Halloran.
The School Administrators Alliance is pushing the legislature to use last year's count given the current circumstances.