In-Depth: Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to combat chronic absenteeism from K-12 schools:
“Every child growing up in the United States deserves a quality education, and it’s our job as elected officials to give our kids the resources they need to succeed. But they cannot excel if they aren’t in the classroom in the first place. Chronic absenteeism is a national crisis, and our local educators and policymakers need the necessary tools to track and combat this issue head on. The CARES Act is a much-needed first step to helping put an end to chronic absenteeism and allowing our students to reach their highest potential.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) adds:
“Sadly, Washington state has one of the worst chronic absenteeism rates in the nation, and we must work to eliminate obstacles keeping students in Southwest Washington from making the most of their school years. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan initiative with my colleague Congressman Tim Ryan that empowers schools to tailor solutions that get students to school, and help them stay in school.”
National PTA, the country’s oldest and largest child advocacy organization, supports this bill. Its president, Leslie Boggs, says:
“It is essential that students are in school every day and that they receive the support they need to learn, grow and thrive. Our association recognizes that to reduce chronic absenteeism, the issue must be addressed at the local level because of variations in causes. We are pleased to support the Chronic Absenteeism Act and applaud Representatives Ryan and Herrera Beutler for introducing the bill to help combat chronic absenteeism at the school level.”
This legislation has seven bipartisan cosponsors, including five Democrats and two Republicans. It’s supported by the National PTA, Committee for Children, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, and the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL).
In the 115th Congress, this legislation had 12 bipartisan cosponsors, including eight Democrats and four Republicans, and didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: Chronic absenteeism is defined by experts and a growing number of states as missing 10% of a school year (around 18 days, or about two days a month), whether excused or unexcused. The Dept. of Education found that nearly eight million students were chronically absent in the 2015-2016 school year. This accounted for 15% of the total student population. During the 2015-2016 school year, chronic absenteeism accounted for the loss of more than 100 million school days.
Chronic absenteeism affects school completion rates: students who are chronically absent are 68% less likely than other students to graduate high school. It also affects school performance and proficiency rates, both of which suffer when students are chronically absent. Additionally, schools with higher chronic absenteeism rates have higher discipline rates for students overall.
Healthy Children, a site sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, reports that at least 10% of kindergarten and first-grade students miss a month or more of the school year. Chronic absenteeism becomes more of a problem in middle school, and peaks as a problem in high school, with about 19% of all high school students being chronically absent. The spike in chronic absenteeism among high school students holds true across all racial groups. By sixth grade, chronic absenteeism becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school.
Certain conditions, such as ADHD, autism, asthma, type 1 diabetes, and anxiety or depression, contribute to chronic absenteeism. According to a National Health Statistics Report in September 2018, children with ADHD, autism, or developmental delays are twice as likely to be chronically absent compared to children without those conditions. Similarly, children with common chronic illnesses such as asthma and type 1 diabetes miss more school when they’re having more symptoms. Additionally, up to 5% of children have school-related anxiety and may create reasons why they shouldn’t go to school, or outright refuse to attend school.
There are also racial patterns in chronic absenteeism across the country. According to 2015-2016 data compiled by the Dept. of Education, American Indian and Pacific Islander students are over 50% more likely to lose three weeks or more of school, black students are 40% more likely, and Hispanic students are 17% more likely. Only one racial group — Asians — was less likely to miss school as compared to white students.
Regional differences are evident, as well. According to federal data for the 2015-2016 school year, more than one-fifth of students were chronically absent in six states: Alaska, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington. By contrast, only about 10% of students in Vermont and North Dakota were chronically absent.
There are also socioeconomic factors that contribute to chronic absenteeism. Research suggests that poor health, limited transportation, and lack of safety — which can be particularly acute in disadvantaged communities and impoverished areas — are all contributors to chronic absenteeism.
The Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires the reporting of chronic absence as a required reporting item for school report cards and and as school accountability metric in the states that selected it.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / manonallard)