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Students at Bethune Elementary-Middle School were treated to smoothies and popcorn on Count Day, courtesy of the Eastern Market and the district's office of school nutrition. The school also raffled prizes including a special lunch with the school's principal.

Schools across the state brought out donuts, dinosaurs, smoothies and all manor of special events on Wednesday to lure as many students to school as humanly possible.

It’s all part of a school funding system in Michigan that determines how much money schools receive from the state based on the number of students in class on “Count Day.”

“It’s not the best way to count students,” state Superintendent Brian Whiston told Chalkbeat. “But I just don’t know of a better way of doing it.”

Michigan is one of nine states that tie per-student funding to attendance on two or more school days, often one day in the fall and another in the spring. (In Michigan, fall count day determines 90 percent of per-pupil funding, while the spring day accounts for the other 10 percent.) Another 10 states use a single count day, while others use average attendance or other methods.

“It’s unfortunate,” Whiston said, that schools put so many resources into “pizza parties, fairs, festivals, anything to get kids excited about coming to school.” But other counting methods like using average attendance would also be problematic, he said, because schools with low average attendance still need enough money to meet the needs of all enrolled students.

“That doesn’t really work because if the student is there, we have to have a teacher,” Whiston said. “If they miss so many days, we still have to have the teacher.”

Michigan began relying on Count Day when it changed to a per-pupil funding system more than 20 years ago. But the day has become more crucial in recent years as the state’s shrinking school-age population has forced districts to aggressively compete for students, said Craig Thiel, research director at the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

“Over the past 10-12 years, as the public school pie has decreased in size, the smaller pie has been sliced in many more pieces. Districts compete vigorously for their slice of the pie,” Thiel said.

In Detroit, schools partnered with businesses, artists and other groups to encourage students to show up and be counted.

Students at Sampson Webber Academy partnered with artist Alex Cook and Beyond Basics, a non-profit literacy organization, to paint a mural.

At Coleman A. Young Elementary School, UAW-Ford donated 50,000 ID kits to all district students for Count Day. (The brother of this school’s principal is with the UAW.) Each kit contains two inkless fingerprint cards, two DNA collection swabs and two activator cards. After collecting the samples and completing the activator card with the child’s information, parents can store the kit for safe keeping. If needed, it can be delivered to authorities to help track the missing child.

A dinosaur visited Michigan Math and Science Academy in Warren:

Detroit’s main district put together a countdown video to make sure kids understood the importance of the day.

Editor’s Note: Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools. Daily Detroit syndicates their content with permission. You can learn more about the writers of Chalkbeat through an interview with them on our Daily Detroit Happy Hour podcast.