Our schools are deserving of more

[This opinion editorial was originally published in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal]

When a coworker shows up to work sneezing and coughing, there's often a lot of grumbling for him or her to go home instead of potentially getting everyone sick.

After all, nobody wants to get sick and have to leave work or lose hours. It's just common sense to want sick people to stay home.

Unfortunately, this isn't much of an option for teachers and students in the classroom. When a sick student comes to school, teachers still have to teach and students still have to learn.

In fact, parents are often encouraged to send their children to school sick so the local school district can accrue Average Daily Attendance, or ADA.

The ADA rate — student attendance divided by days of instruction — is how California funds schools. In essence, the more kids show up to school, the more money the school district receives.

The ADA formula is specifically meant to encourage local school districts to combat chronic truancy.

Students who are frequently absent tend to fall behind, have lower graduation rates, and are less likely to become productive members of society.

However, by funding schools through attendance rates, the ADA formula has the unintended consequence of costing schools more money — and getting more people sick — than if the student just stayed home.

This pressure comes from the fact that regardless of how many students show up to school, teachers, janitors, and utilities all have to be paid if they are to continue the vital day-to-day operations of a healthy school.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Viruses that cause colds can spread from infected people to others through the air and close personal contact.”

The centers' No. 1 recommendation for preventing the spread of colds of flu to other people is staying at home while you are sick.

When a child comes to school sick, highly contagious viruses like the flu and cold viruses spread, getting more students sick — and often times the teacher sick, too.

The result is more students staying home and a substitute teacher having to be hired — all unnecessarily costing school districts precious dollars.

Herein lies the problem with the current ADA formula: the current formula encourages sick children to attend school.

While the intention is to help local school districts combat absences, the result not only costs schools more money, but also promotes unsound public health practices.

That is why I recently introduced Assembly Bill 2587, which would allow a school district to collect 100 percent of ADA funding if it reaches at least a 94 percent ADA rate.

The change in reimbursement percentage would make it so school districts aren't punished for students who make the decision to stay home due to a contagious illness.

This allows school districts to still focus on combating chronic truancy while also being able to encourage smart public health practices.

A perfect example would be Saugus Union School District. The district's 2015 ADA report reflects a remarkable 97 percent attendance rate.

It's obvious the district is doing its part to combat truancy like the ADA intends, but it's not properly rewarded for that effort.

Naturally, there will always be a small portion of children who get sick. However, that 3 percent that's unaccounted for in Saugus Union translates into a loss of more than $2 million in funding to the district.

While this 3 percent absence rate may seem small, the lost funding could be the difference in teachers being able to afford supplies for interactive classroom lessons, or for students being offered music classes.

AB 2587 will allow school districts that reach a reasonable 94 percent attendance rate to collect 100 percent of state funding.

The measure is intended to reduce pressure on school districts and parents and to promote responsible public health policy.

Districts like Saugus Union School District ought to be fully funded for their impressive attendance rate — not punished.