Taking Kids out of School for a Vacation? California District Wants Parents to Make Up for Lost State Aid
What is the worth of a single day of school? Although the education and growth that occur for each child are invaluable, at least one school district in California has assigned a monetary value to it.
The Manhattan Beach Unified School District, located in the affluent South Bay area of Los Angeles, requests that parents donate $47 for each day that their child is absent from school.
In California, schools receive state funding based on the average daily attendance, so the reasoning behind this request is that if families can afford to take their children out of school for vacations, they can also afford to contribute towards the district’s financial loss. Less than 5 percent of the 6,647 students in Manhattan Beach qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch, highlighting the district’s affluent demographics.
The request for donations is included in the district’s online form for reporting absences, conveniently providing a link for online payments and instructions for paying by check.
The district website does not specify whether parents should make a payment when their children are absent due to illness, although some school websites clarify that a donation is recommended only for absences related to vacations, social events, or reasons other than illness.
Manhattan Beach Superintendent Mike Matthews explained that the district has intermittently included this request in the past few years, but it does not pressure parents to make payments. He highlighted that only about 1 percent of absences have resulted in a donation this year. The idea of requesting donations emerged from a parent after California altered its funding formula in 2013, which now penalizes schools even for excused absences.
Certain school websites feature a video that explains the funding formula and the donation request.
When asked about his concerns regarding the financial loss due to student absences, Matthews stated that it is simply "the cost of doing business" for a school district. He added that the daily attendance rate in Manhattan Beach is approximately 98 percent, but the district still loses around $1 million annually due to student absences.
California is among the few states that allocate funds to schools based on daily attendance rather than total enrollment, and other affluent districts have also experimented with similar strategies. According to a spokesperson for the state Education Department, districts have the discretion to implement such tactics.
Hedy Chang, the founder and executive director of Attendance Works, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco, stated that this approach has both advantages and disadvantages. She believes that it can yield mixed results and emphasizes the importance of informing families about the missed learning opportunities and achievements, so that they can meet their aspirations and ambitions.
One parent in Manhattan Beach, who wished to remain anonymous, revealed that most parents she knows do not mind the donation request and willingly pay the fee. She explained that since the community often takes their children out of school for vacations or family events, it results in a significant financial loss for the school’s budget.
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