Hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the line for a suburban Iowa school district on Friday if enraged parents carry out a plan to artificially lower the district’s enrollment numbers.
Families in the Ankeny Community School District who are upset about a new mask mandate are threatening to withdraw their children from school before the state’s Oct. 1 student count deadline.
The number of students enrolled in a district on that date aids in determining funding levels for the following school year.
Some parents would then re-enroll their children on Oct. 2, effectively forcing the district to educate their children with less money. Last week, the Ankeny School Board voted 5-2 to impose a mask mandate that requires students to wear masks while inside school buildings. The move came after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt issued a temporary restraining order earlier this month on a state law that prohibits school districts from implementing mask mandates.
Jeff Fahrmann, a parent, told the board that if the mandate was approved, he would withdraw his three children.
Fahrmann told the board, “I have personally confirmed 66 students who will be unenrolled through a personal survey.”
“We unenrolled our children last year as a result of the hybrid part-time instruction decision, and we intend to do so again if you require masks without reasonable exemptions.”
Medical and religious exemptions can be requested by students.
Fahrmann has also started an online petition outlining his plan to defund the school district.
If families follow through on the threat, it could cost the district thousands of dollars.
What happens if parents remove their children from school prior to the count?
Every year, the certified enrollment count is taken on Oct. 1 or the following Monday if the first of the month falls on a weekend, according to Heather Doe, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Education.
According to Doe, the certified enrollment count is used to determine the school district’s funding for the following school year. According to the Department of Education’s website, additional factors for determining aid include district programs and student services.
Districts collect enrollment data throughout the winter and spring, but only the October 1 count affects funding, according to Doe. On the last Friday of October, there is a separate count for students with disabilities. This amount is used to fund special education programs and services.
If a student withdraws or leaves the district before the Oct. 1 count date, that student will not be considered when aid for the following school year is calculated, according to Doe.
If a significant number of students leave and then return, the district can ask the school budget review committee to increase its “spending authority to cover educating those students,” according to Margaret Buckton, executive director of the Urban Education Network, an advocacy organization for the state’s urban school districts.
Buckton stated that if the committee approves the funding, it will be covered by local property taxes.
Iowa legislators have discussed changing the law governing the state’s yearly enrollment count. The comprehensive education bill introduced by Gov. Kim Reynolds at the start of the legislative session would have added a second enrollment count on April 1. The district’s actual enrollment would have been calculated by averaging the new spring count with the Oct. 1 count — a method of accounting for changes in the district’s enrollment over the course of an academic year.
The bill was later amended by the Senate to remove the second count date. However, that bill would have established an enrollment working group to investigate the issue. The bill did not receive enough support in the House to pass.
According to Roark Horn, executive director of School Administrators of Iowa, the impact on schools is that the loss of funds takes away resources for educating students.
Buckton concurs with Horn that this is not your typical protest. “I think, what it suggests is we are in extraordinary times and parents are feeling like they don’t necessarily have control over decisions that (are) going to impact their children,” Buckton said.