Connecting Data to Funding – White Paper

Easily, Quickly and with Accountability

Executive Summary

There is no shortage of data in our education system. Many districts, however, are not adequately managing student data. Worse still, districts are not properly leveraging the data that can provide them with much needed funding. This paper provides an overview of the relationship between student information, data capture and reporting, and the potential for increased federal funding.

A Serious Problem

Much is being written about education funding included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. For many districts, the additional funding represents an opportunity to upgrade facilities, stave off program and staff cuts.

In fact, a recent AASA survey revealed that 99% of superintendents questioned say their already stretched budgets are facing additional crunches thanks to rising fuel and energy costs. Many will consider program reductions and even bus route eliminations to combat the negative effects of the economic downturn on their districts. Worse still, 72% of districts studied say they plan to cut staff in 2009/2010.

But uncertainty as to exactly how much relief will derive from the Stimulus funding lingers. Energy costs will continue to rise as will enrollment nationwide. And because federal funding represents such a small portion of a district’s funding, with a larger portion of dollars originating from state and local budgets, many schools and districts will remain under budgetary constraints longer than others, as the negative impact of the down economy continues.

Business managers and superintendents are being challenged to think outside the box to identify ways to enhance and protect their budgets from year to year. Improving performance in existing federal funding programs is one such way.

A Possible Solution

There are existing federal programs which provide ongoing sources of funding. Many of these are tied to student data reporting, specifically their financial profile. There is a nationwide and ongoing trend of under-reporting data that allows districts to receive substantial additional funding. Technology upgrades can be the answer to this failing.

Technology exists that can help districts improve their participation in existing and ongoing federal funding programs. By improving data collection, management and reporting, a district can see immediate and long-term financial benefits. Registration Gateway is one such tool that helps districts collect data, integrate with any student information or content management system, streamline reporting and provide unimpeachable accountability.

The relationship between student data collection and federal funding is an important one. District leaders can leverage an existing asset – their student population – to secure essential funding.

This paper describes the benefits that can be gained by overhauling the registration process and improving the student data collection, management and reporting process.

Funding Challenges

Schools and districts face many challenges when it comes to securing appropriate funding. These obstacles range from communication breakdowns to poor data capture. The following challenges can be overcome when student data is properly captured and reported.

Funding Sources

A surprisingly small portion of a district’s funding originates as federal funding – often less than 10%. More dollars come from local and state programs. Since states cannot carry deficits in the way that the federal government can, when state budgets are hurt by economic conditions, school budgets feel the pinch. Schools are left scrambling to maximize budgets at the worst possible times. The result is often staff and program cuts.

Registration Gateway is a tool that can help districts increase the amount of federal funding that they receive year after year. We’ll take a look at how shortly.

Ineffective Use of Existing Dollars

Another challenge is pervasive in America’s school districts…but overwhelmingly overlooked. That is the possible ineffective – or even misuse – of existing dollars in improper programs. Many federal funding programs are tied to a district’s profile. In order to receive funding associated with specific programs, such as Title 1 or Free and Reduced Lunch (FRPL), a district must accurately collect and report student profile information.

When districts under report the number of students eligible for program participation the district is effectively misusing dollars for a program that could be supplemented by federal dollars. This would allow districts to bolster other financial needs with the now “freed up” dollars.

Poor Interdepartmental Communication

It’s also possible for a school or district to lose out on funding because of lack of communication between departments. Since so many federal programs are based on student data reporting and profiles, it is imperative to break departmental silos and facilitate information sharing as easily, seamlessly and regularly as possible.

Human Nature

FRPL, which will be discussed below, relies first on data from a student’s parent or guardian. The dollars a school or district receives as part of the federal FRPL program are directly connected to a family’s income. Students and/or their parent or guardian are often too embarrassed to admit need and therefore participate in programs that affect a school’s budget. When students don’t participate, an accurate district profile is neither being compiled or reported. The result is clear – reduced funding.

Improved Data Capture Impacts Funding

Two existing federal programs are heavily tied to data capture and reporting. FRPL, or Free and Reduced Lunch Program, and Title 1 entitlement program distribute funding in large part based on a district’s profile.

What is FRPL?

FRPL, or Free and Reduced Price Lunch is part of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The multi-billion dollar program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and non-profit private schools or residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.

Free lunches are available to children in households with incomes at or below 130 percent of poverty. Children in the foster care system may also apply. Reduced price lunches are available to children in households with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of poverty.

FRPL is expressed as a percentage, the percent of a school’s or district’s enrolled students who are eligible to participate. This data is used in multiple determinations to demonstrate the level of need in the school or district. The more eligible students who participate, the more funding a school receives. This directly impacts the school’s overall budget, as dollars that would have been used to support nutrition can now be used to support other programs. If your district participates, a yearly qualification process is employed to re-determine the level of eligibility.

According to Standard and Poor’s SchoolDataDirect, 41.8% of the nation’s K-12 students received free- and reduced price-lunch in 2007.

But some states and districts don’t report the student data, or don’t report it correctly. One study found that FRPL data only exists for about 80% of all of the nation’s school districts. Superintendents and Business Managers must find ways to get this FRPL number as high – and as accurate – as possible. The higher a district’s FRPL percentage, the greater the district’s poverty indicator, the more dollars a district receives. It’s important to note that funding is not based on use, but only on eligibility.

The challenge in many cases is that parents and guardians must apply to participate. Because admitting need can be embarrassing for both the guardian and the student, student participation drops off. This is increasingly evident at the senior high school level. Technology can be employed to address both problems – under-capturing and under-reporting student eligibility.

A tool like Registration Gateway alleviates the embarrassment associated with returning paperwork by a student. A student’s guardian can register for the program from home (or off-site) in privacy. Registration Gateway enables program registration from any location with internet access. Schools can also opt for an on-site kiosk that allows for registration in privacy. Registration Gateway can automatically notify guardians of outstanding FRPL forms and provide information regarding how their participation impacts school funding and how they can enroll digitally or opt out. By registering digitally, schools also save cost associated with paper forms and time associated with manual data entry.

Registration Gateway also assists in the reporting process. Registration Gateway does more than digitize the FRPL program process. It integrates the student data into any content management system and allows for easy report generation.

Title 1

A significant part of the No Child Left Behind program, Title 1 funding supports programs directed at disadvantaged children. To receive NCLB funding, districts must complete and submit extensive applications.

To apply for NCLB Title 1 funding, districts must be able to report a wide range of statistics associated with their student population – and often with the parent or guardian. This data includes but is not limited to, student enrollment by grade, student population by race and gender, percent of population in need of English language support, and percent of student population eligible for FRPL participation.

Parent/guardian data includes level of parental involvement in student activities and volunteering.

But again, capturing this information is often time consuming and paper intensive. Many districts use forms to capture data and rely on manual data entry to transport the information into a student information or content management system. Aside from time and cost issues associated with this type of process, the possibility for error is enormous.

By improving the data capture process, schools can enhance their compliance with and participation in this very important program.

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