Michigan’s state funding has long been tied to a single count day, which occurs on the first Wednesday of October. This year, that means that for each student in attendance, each school will receive roughly $9,150—the base funding in the state’s budget.

For states that have such count days, it’s so important that some schools I’ve researched outside of Michigan hold pizza parties to ensure students attend. Of course, pizza and food would likely drive Jewish students away while fasting on Yom Kippur.

Five districts in Michigan that don’t hold school on Yom Kippur because they have large Jewish populations have received waivers from the state to use the following day as the count day instead. Yet districts in session, like Ann Arbor, must create workarounds.

Even if one grants that Michigan’s policy stems from innocent, obtuse bureaucratic policies rather than something more pernicious, the reliance on a single count day to determine a school’s funding is a sign of more serious problems.

Funding schools based on attendance on a single day — or in other states, based on their average daily attendance or the number of minutes students sit in class over the course of a year — incentivizes schools to focus on what’s known as “seat time,” but not learning.

In other words, rather than pay for learning, public schools are paid based on enrollment. It’s no exaggeration to say that we’re paying schools based on the wrong end of the student. Small wonder that the focus on learning is so variable and results poor.

A better funding model would tie some portion of the money to learning progress—measured in terms of mastery—that each individual student makes over the course of the fiscal year. Such a model would incentivize learning, not just attendance.

Read the full article about funding schools by Michael B. Horn at Christensen Institute.