January 10, 2023

How to Sustain Attendance & Engagement Post Relief Funding

Over the past couple years, school districts across the country have seen large federal funding streams of unprecedented flexibility to help address the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. Chronic absenteeism has been one of the most pressing issues for educators nationwide, and many districts have used their influx of funding for staff, solutions, and programs to help improve attendance. However, this funding won’t be here forever, even if chronic absenteeism remains. 

At the Power of Present Summit in November, Phyllis W. Jordan, Associate Director of FutureEd and Dr. Derek Little, Deputy Chief of Teaching and Learning, Dallas ISD, presented on the current state of federal funding, how it’s been used, and strategies for ensuring that attendance work can continue even when the federal funding begins to sunset. 

Watch the full keynote below, or read about the highlights and strategies below!

The Current State of Funding & Recommendations for the Future

Phyllis Jordan and the team at FutureEd have been researching how districts have been spending their federal funds, and the number of districts that are investing in attendance and other initiatives are well summarized in this graph:

While attendance is not as widespread of an expenditure as SEL and mental health professionals, it touches all of these initiatives, whether it’s a community/parent engagement program that improves school culture and brings more students in every day, or tutoring that risks going to waste if students aren’t in attendance. 

Most educators know that attendance touches everything, as illustrated in the above graphic. With that in mind, you can make a case for using other funding streams to support your attendance improvement initiatives once ESSER funding has been sunsetted,  including these Title funding streams:

Additionally, local philanthropic & community partners, nonprofits, and foundations can help support your efforts. For example, the Mellon Foundation is funding Pittsburgh Public Schools with a grant to support their attendance initiatives, including implementation of EveryDay Intervention.  

Making the Case for Attendance

You and your team know how important attendance is to your larger strategy for student success, however those in charge of budgets and spending may not be as well informed. Now is the time to make the case for continued funding of your current initiatives. Dr. Derek Little gave a few suggestions, including: 

  • Get informed about your district’s ESSER strategy
  • Make friends wherever you can in the organization
  • Can your finance/budget team articulate your attendance strategy? Bring your work and story to the people who control the money so that you can make sure the work stays funded. 
  • When you make the case successfully, you can also secure funding from state & local dollars to support your efforts 

Strategies in Action: Dallas ISD

Dr. Derek Little shared that at Dallas ISD, departments were able to continue their initiatives by providing evidence that their programs actually worked. This included:  

  • Randomized controlled trial (RCT) around home visits to prove that students who received a home visit had improved outcomes
  • Showing the connection between chronic absenteeism and district-wide goals, like academics. Dallas has numerous equity goals, including improving reading scores for African-American students, and by showing that improved attendance boosted reading scores, they were able to continue funding their attendance efforts. 

Whether you are making the “heartstrings” argument or the analytical argument, there’s a clear case to be made for funding attendance initiatives, and the impact of improved attendance on student outcomes is indisputable. Check out The Power of a Student Being Present research paper to help get you started, or our funding resources page for more information!  

Getting students on track starts with attendance. We can help.