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School Districts Offer Incentives To Boost Attendance

Student absences cost the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) nearly $12 million in the 2009-2010 school year. So school officials went to great lengths to get kids to school – like dangling a car as a prize for perfect attendance.

Last year, high school seniors Jemma Stentiford and Andres Perez had their names drawn during a raffle. From a pool of 51 seniors with perfect attendance, the two won a free refurbished car that had been donated to the district.

SUHSD loses between $30 and $40 per day for each student absence. That averages out to more than $500,000 a year per school on funds lost to kids not showing up.

The district began the attendance campaign a few years ago giving away gift cards and iPods, eventually raising the ante to computers and cars.

This year, lack of corporate sponsors kept anyone from getting a new car. Lillian Leopold, spokesperson for SUHSD, said the resources and interactions students have at school provide enough incentive to get kids to class.

Stentiford, now a student at UCLA, said she found getting perfect attendance quite easy.

“It was really nice to go to Eastlake,” she said, “the school provided a very welcoming environment.” (She has since sold the car.)

Schools like Eastlake High with funding based on attendance do all they can to keep parents involved.

“We send automated messages,” Leopold said. “Whether the student missed a period or the entire day,” a call is made to the student’s home. If the parents didn’t know about the absence, “that’s a conversation they would have to have with the student,” Leopold said.

Leopold added that the district has been working hard to make sure parents understand what happens when a student misses class. “Not only does the school lose funding, but now that student has fallen behind,” she said.

With deficits and budget cuts looming every year, districts may begin to wonder whether attendance-based funding is the way to go.

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