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Pupil Count and Transportation Info in DPI Regulatory Relief Package

Friday, August 7, 2020

On Friday, August 7, 2020, Deputy State Superintendent Mike Thompson sent an email to district administrators announcing the regulatory flexibility framework that DPI is able to provide for school districts this coming fall. SFS would like to highlight the information provided on pupil counts and transportation aids:

Pupil count dates

State law requires all Wisconsin school districts to report their official enrollments to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) on the third Friday of September and the second Friday of January. These enrollments are used to determine student membership for school finance purposes. Districts are already able to include in their enrollments students who attend existing virtual programs, placements required by individualized education programs (IEPs), and other non-traditional instructional settings. There is no special flexibility required for districts to count students who are being served with virtual or blended instructional models on or around the count date.

Under existing law and DPI guidance, a student may be included in a school district’s September 2020 headcount for aid and revenue limit membership purposes if:

  1. The student is enrolled and in attendance on Friday, September 18, 2020, or
  2. The student is enrolled and in attendance for the 2020-21 school year on any day before September 18, 2020, and any day after September 18, 2020, with no change in residency or enrollment during that period (the “before and after” dates are not restricted to Thursday, September 17 and Monday, September 21).

In either case, the student may be counted regardless of the specific setting in which they are receiving instruction. Similarly, a student may be included in a district’s January 2021 headcount for aid membership if they are enrolled and in attendance on Friday, January 8, 2021, or on any day before and any day after that with no change in residency and enrollment, regardless of the instructional setting then in use.

If a district implements policies on how teachers will take and record attendance in their student information system (SIS) for in-person, virtual, or blended instruction, then it should conduct its third Friday count process as usual. Otherwise, the district will need to define its attendance policies for the instructional settings that may be in use this year, and then determine alternative method(s) for documenting attendance used in the third Friday membership count. Districts selected for membership audits in 2020-21 as required by law will need to make their attendance policies and documentation used for their headcounts available to auditors, but DPI is not prescribing that policies or documentation must be in any particular format.

To the maximum extent allowed by law, DPI will hold independent charter and private choice schools to the same standard as school districts for their September 2020 counts.

General state aids for 2020-21 are based upon student membership data from 2019-20 that were reported before the COVID-19 public health emergency was declared. Revenue limits, which in combination with general state aids determine a district’s maximum allowable tax levy (excluding referendum debt and community services), will incorporate September 2020 student count data into the three-year rolling average membership. Per-pupil payments to independent charter and private choice schools are based on current year counts.

Transportation aids

School buses and state aid for transportation in the coming school year have been common topics of concern since the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The DPI Student Services, Prevention & Wellness Team has released their interim guidance on mitigating the risks of COVID-19 spread for districts and other LEAs that plan to provide school bus transportation in the 2020-21 school year. This information is based on DHS and CDC communications and may be subject to change.

There have been a number of requests for flexibility with regard to Pupil Transportation Aid in 2020-21. As a reminder, aid paid this year will be based upon ridership data reported for 2019-20. Districts and independent charter schools have a great deal of flexibility in when and how they determine the number of pupils receiving transportation. For example:

  • There is no requirement to have specific count dates for pupil transportation. The common practice of having two counts, one in the fall and one in the spring, is not specified in law.
  • There is no requirement for the number of days a pupil must be transported in order to be counted.
  • Pupils may be counted for aid whether transportation is provided with a traditional yellow school bus, contract with a parent or guardian, or other method allowed by law.

Absent a statutory change, if a district does not transport a pupil, they may not be counted.

High Cost Pupil Transportation Aid paid this year is also prior year data, in this case Fund 10 transportation costs reported in districts’ PI-1505 Annual Reports. It is likely that aid eligibility under this program will fluctuate significantly over the next few years, as districts’ varying responses to COVID-19 and the impact on their transportation spending will affect both the statewide average and districts’ position relative to that average.

The full document is available on the District Administrators' email page.