If complicated equations are your thing, it’s likely you’d enjoy the WADA – “weighted average daily attendance” – portion of how Texas does school finance. School districts are understandably less than fond of this calculation, given that it means their state funding is tied, in part, to student attendance. School board trustees will tell you, figuring out how to get kids to reliably show up at school is a top priority. It’s often the justification, in fact, for cathedral high schools, grandiose football stadiums (school spirit, y’all!), and much, much more.
In San Antonio’s Northside ISD, it’s the justification for a new program. Students at two schools are taking part in an experiment with microchips in their student i.d. cards, to help track students’ locations and presumably cut down on cutting-out. Some students and parents aren’t happy with this, and there is already legislation filed by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) to stop this from spreading statewide.
While the Big Brother overtones are a definite concern (maybe this could be a teaching tool for reluctant high school readers?), the logic also seems wanting. The identification card itself is not a new idea and is in use in many schools, but how many of those are lost or destroyed each year, and how much will it cost the district to keep up with replacing (and presumably reprogramming) lost “locator chips” as well? Does the cost fall on local taxpayers or individual students and their parents, as a replacement i.d. card often does in other realms? How many teachers could Northside ISD have retained this year instead of implementing this program, which cost a reported $261,000 for just these two schools?
Another concern has to be the fact that the students are routinely absent in such huge numbers to begin with. It’s not where they are that matters so much as why they’re gone in the first place. This is a problem that clearly falls both on the parents and the district and has no easy answer. But will tracking students really solve the problem – or simply create more? So far, the latter is definitely true. A lawsuit regarding privacy or religious objection was bound to come up. Was this really not smell-tested first, and if not, why not? The district will have to spend (taxpayer) money to defend this in court already.
Ultimately, the cost for this program, if implemented district-wide, will likely outweigh or at least nullify the funds received from the state, and that’s only if it is successful in actually keeping kids in school. This is a “we ran out of ideas” measure that, rightfully, makes some people squeamish about their rights and the government’s overreach into our lives.