Economics of Absence: Behind the Analysis

In K-12 public education in California, every student has a value — a monetary one. Each year, the Department of Education calculates a “revenue limit,” which is the amount of money a district should receive in general funding for each student in a traditional, non-charter public school. Then, depending upon the state’s financial situation, that figure might be “deficited.” Last year, revenue limit funds were cut by almost 20 percent.

School districts receive that money per student based on attendance, not enrollment.

For the analysis of revenue school districts miss out on because of the attendance formula, KPBS and inewsource requested attendance and absentee information under the California Public Records Act from San Diego County’s 42 districts. In all, 32 districts provided the attendance information. Four provided information not pertinent to the analysis, and six did not respond despite repeated attempts to contact them.

We eliminated basic aid districts, which don’t rely as heavily on state funding, and “necessary small school districts”, which receive funding through an enrollment formula. We also did not include charter schools, which are funded differently from traditional public schools.

Ultimately, our analysis included more than 450 traditional public schools from 21 districts in the county.

We worked with the Business Advisory Services Department of the San Diego County Office of Education to create a formula to calculate revenue funding schools and districts miss because of absences. The formula multiplies state-calculated revenue limits, which vary by district, by enrollment figures provided by the county office to determine how much a district could have received with perfect student attendance. We subtracted the amount districts reported actually receiving to arrive at the amounts they lost out on in 2009-2010. Districts in San Diego County missed out on more than $100 million of state funding.

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