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Letter to the Editor: Keeping kids enrolled in Chelsea schools protects state funding

Dear Editor:

As a parent in the Chelsea School District, I know pretty much everyone with school aged children is currently struggling with the same question – how are we going to educate our kids in the fall? The uncertainty of COVID-19 guarantees that we won’t have a normal school year, and it will be up to each of us as parents to choose the option that’s best for us and our families. As we all work to figure out what that option is, I’m appealing to my fellow Chelsea parents: please consider maintaining your child’s enrollment in the Chelsea School District to preserve state funding for our schools.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for or against in-person learning. I applaud Chelsea Schools for making it clear that there will be an option for 100% remote learning for any family that wants to go that route, regardless of what in-person or hybrid options may also be available. This means that kids will be able to stay enrolled in the school but never set foot in a school building. As parents consider the scenario where their kids are learning completely from home, I know some are also weighing their options to see what other online learning programs or curriculums are out there. But because of the way schools are funded in Michigan, if a parent disenrolls their child from the school completely, the District will lose around $7,438 in state funding for that child.

The vast majority of the funding for Chelsea Schools comes from the state – for the coming school year, almost $17 million to be exact (this is already a reduction of $2.7 million versus last year due to state funding cuts). To look at an example scenario, if a quarter of families decided to disenroll their kids for the coming school year, our schools would lose around $4.25 million in funding. And to be clear, our taxes aren’t lowered by that amount (or any amount) – that money just goes out of our community to other places in the state. The funding we would lose is enough to pay the salaries of more than half the teachers. If faced with this kind of funding loss the school would have no choice but to make some drastic cuts which would include losing a significant number of teachers. I’m very concerned that our schools would suffer significant damage lasting long after the pandemic is over.

There is a lot of uncertainty about what kind of distance learning program Chelsea Schools will offer. I know much is still being decided and designed, but I have the utmost confidence in our teachers to take Chelsea’s excellent curriculum into this new environment. Since my daughter is just starting at South Meadows this year I’ve only gotten to know a few of the teachers, but they have without exception been unfailing in their dedication to their students’ personal development and success. The Chelsea School District is consistently recognized as being one of the best districts not only in the state but in the country, with U.S. News ranking us in the top 4% year after year. I can’t imagine a better group to be facing this problem with. 

So to my fellow parents who might still be on the fence – please give Chelsea Schools a chance. Funding is determined by the number of students enrolled and attending (in person or virtually) on Count Day, which this year is Wednesday, October 7th. Keeping your child enrolled through this date brings around $7,438 into the school – that’s a lot of box tops. Let’s stick it out at least until then to protect our school and make sure that the institution that helps make Chelsea a great place to raise a family is as strong as ever once this is all over.

Ben Fineman

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8 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor: Keeping kids enrolled in Chelsea schools protects state funding”

  1. Thank you so much for explaining this in a simple way. I live in the Manchester School District and we too are facing these same challenges. I think that all families in any district in our state would do well to follow your suggestion, stick it out until at least Count Day. Perhaps, if families are having difficulties with the distance learning they could try their own choices for curriculum without dis-enrolling from school, but working with their teacher to make the experience as beneficial as possible for their student.

    Distance learning is a new challenge for teachers, parents and students alike. I’m sure that there is a way to keep funding in our schools and insure that each student/family is having their particular educational needs and challenges met.

    I hope we can all work together peacefully to make this school year as best as we can.

    • Wayne, thanks for raising this important point. I think it’s a common concern that the final weeks of the 2019-2020 school year provide insight into what an all virtual curriculum for 2020-2021 might look like. This is not the case because in the spring Chelsea Schools made the conscious decision to provide enrichment instruction only (basically review) as opposed to teaching new material. This was at least in part because of concerns about students being able to access online materials (over 40% of households in the District don’t have broadband access) but also due to the short timeframe following the state mandated suspension of in-person education. For the 2020-2021 school year Chelsea has been clear that they will offer the full curriculum, which will include instruction of new material, virtually. This combined with having the summer to prepare for virtual instruction will result in a much better environment than we saw in the spring.

      Citation for district broadband access:

  2. It isn’t that simple. Count day is vitally important to funding, however that one day does not qualify the school for the full money. That is the day that sets the mark, how many students does your district enroll. There is (or can be) auditing and a spring count day.
    I don’t disagree that “these unprecedented times” could have a negative impact on our schools-it has had such an impact on many businesses and family finances.
    I don’t know what my family will decide but if we choose not to go the route of CSD this year I can’t get on board with this-in my opinion, if you don’t truly intend to keep your kids enrolled for the year, this amounts to fraud.

    • Constance, thanks for your comment. Certainly you are correct that there are a lot more nuances to how schools are funded through the State School Aid Act, including the 10% of funding that is determined by the Spring Count Day. However for the purposes of this conversation, I believe the Fall Count Day which determines 90% of funding is the most relevant. Parents who are interested in more details can visit the “Count Day” page that I linked in the original article.

      As for your second point, I think you have misunderstood the appeal made in my last paragraph, which was directed to “parents who might still be on the fence”. I believe most parents are struggling to decide what to do in the fall. A big part of this struggle is the uncertainty around what Chelsea’s educational experiences, including 100% virtual options, are going to look like. By Count Day on October 7th we will have had about 25 days of school, and will have a much better picture of what that experience will be and how well it’s working for our own kids. I would push back strongly against any assertion that parents wanting to keep their options open until they have enough information to make an informed decision are committing “fraud”.

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