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Drought Affects Attendance at Some Valley Schools

Some Central Valley school districts are seeing a drop in student attendance.This year's drought emergency is forcing some migrant families and their children to miss school or move away as they leave to find work. But with these absences, school districts lose out on funding.
Some Central Valley school districts are seeing a drop in student attendance. This year's drought emergency is forcing some migrant families and their children to miss school or move away as they leave to find work.

But with these absences, school districts lose out on funding.

The Kings Canyon Unified School District has already seen a significant drop in attendance, according to Superintendent Juan Garza.  

Empty seats in some Central Valley classrooms--they're the less obvious signs of the drought.

For migrant workers, the nature of the job is to move where there is work. 

As the drought has dried up farms, some workers have left, forcing children to abruptly leave schools.

Garza says a significant amount of the district's families are migrant.

"So we're down 198 students. That has implications both financially and also for the educational needs of the student," Garza says. 

Garza says for the 2012-2013 school year, 9,954 students were enrolled. This year, 9,756 students are enrolled. 

Typically, the district would see an increase of about two to three percent per year, but not this drought year. 

For each absence, the district misses out on about $39 per student per day of state funding.

"From the district's point of view, we're losing about $1.5 million."

It's not just the financial impact school officials are concerned about.

Relocating and readjusting can be traumatic for children, interrupting their educational progress.

"Especially in this day and age with the new Common Core standards, they're very rigorous, and for them to miss any time, even a few days or a week, they fall behind very, very quickly," says Ruth White, principal of Jefferson Elementary School in the Kings Canyon Unified School District.  

Garza says as enrollment has dropped, they've had to readjust their $80 million budget. 

"I don't see this condition changing soon. And so we'll project a little lower and we'll tighten our belts and make adjustments," Garza says. 

Garza says he doesn't plan to cut staff or educational programs.

On March 19, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson met with school officials in the Central Valley.   

He told school officials that he will restore funding to those districts impacted by the drought. 

Speaking by phone Wednesday, Torlakson said he is able to restore funding without legislation because the drought is considered a state emergency. 
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