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Attendance matters: Oct. 1 is 'count day' for Colorado's public schools

October 4, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:52 am

Across the state, newsletters have gone out, automated phone calls have been made to homes and teachers are preparing to break out treats on Tuesday.

Oct. 1 is "count day" at Colorado's public schools, when the official head count of students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade is tallied and submitted to the state.

School districts receive state funding for the academic year based on enrollment.

The day is significant, says Jan Rose Petro, director of data services for the Colorado Department of Education, because "that's the way students generate money for their school districts."

Glenn Gustafson, deputy superintendent and chief financial officer for Colorado Springs School District 11, said enrollment determines 90 percent of funding for his district, which ranks as the state's ninth largest as of last October.

"It's extremely important that students are enrolled and attending school so we can have adequate resources to educate them, especially in this day of scarce resources," he said.

Special events are common to encourage students to be in their seats when the bell rings.

Columbia Elementary is asking families to take part in a "walk to school day," and Howbert Elementary's school picture day coincides with count day, according to D-11 spokeswoman Devra Ashby.

In Falcon School District 49, teachers have emailed parents, talked with parent-teacher groups for added support and sent reminders home in goody bags, said spokeswoman Stephanie Wurtz.

Falcon Virtual Academy has done an "extensive campaign," she said, to inform families about the requirements. As an online school, it must document students' log-on time, as well as submitted assignments.

"So they're going to great lengths, even making home visits, to ensure students are completing their log-ons and coursework," she said. "Count day is critical for all districts in Colorado."

But if students are sick and don't happen to show up to class on Tuesday, "it's not the end of the world," Petro said.

The CDE allows a window - five days before and five days after Oct. 1 - for districts to prove enrollment.

"It's just easier for the districts if students are there on Oct. 1, than if you have to show attendance prior and after," Petro said.

Districts also may apply for an alternative count date, which must be approved by the CDE's auditing unit. Because of the recent flooding in Colorado, more schools are expected to do that this year, Petro said.

"We're giving special compensation this year for the alternative count date, as long as it falls within the range between Aug. 15 and Oct. 10," she said.

Student attendance still can only be applied to one district, though.

Also new this year is the "data pipeline," a system intended to more efficiently enable districts to file information to the CDE.

Wurtz said the pipeline is designed to reduce redundancy of data, capture closer to real-time statistics, streamline the collection process and allow districts to exchange information on transfer students.

"This also will allow our district to submit and clean data on a regular basis," she said, "rather than solving thousands of errors at the end of the year."

Although the counting process may seem simple, Gustafson said "the rules are complicated."

"By and large, elementary kids are easy, and high school kids are harder because we have to look at how many classes they're taking. If they don't have enough time, they're counted as half-time students," he said. Another example: only preschool slots authorized by the CDE apply.

The CDE will announce final results in January. Information submitted from larger districts is audited every year; smaller districts are audited up to every three years.

"They come in April or May and randomly select students. They look at course schedules and attendance to ensure the count is accurate," Gustafson said.

In October 2012, there were 863,561 students in Colorado's public schools, an increase of 9,296 students, or 1.09 percent, over October 2011. State funding amounted to an average per pupil amount of about $6,500.

If the education financial reform proposal, Amendment 66, passes on the Nov. 5 ballot, the system to determine student enrollment and funding will change. It will be based on the average number of students enrolled throughout the school year.

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