January 24, 2024

A Sharper Focus on Chronic Absenteeism Sweeps the Nation

In a country where every student not only has the right to a free public education, but is also required to attend regularly, it’s no wonder that education is always a hot topic in the political realm. But over the last couple years, culture war and school choice disagreements have taken precedence over an arguably more pressing issue: a startling amount of students are simply not showing up to school to begin with. While the White House just recently made a statement about prioritizing chronic absenteeism, many states have also been sharpening their focus on this critical issue. In this post, we’ll explore how states have been working to understand the challenge, broadcast the importance of attendance, strategically invest in solutions, and effectively incentivize communities to make the shifts necessary for student success.

Understanding the Challenge 

Some states have been better than others in tracking chronic absenteeism and gaining a full understanding of the problem. Lawmakers in Florida, seeing levels of chronic absenteeism across the state, are beginning to address the chronic absenteeism challenge by drafting legislation to better understand the issue, its causes, and how many students are impacted, with the hopes that dedicated campaigns and resources will follow. 

Singing the Message from the Rooftops

Recently, we saw Massachusetts State Education Secretary Patrick Tutwiler star in a television PSA aired across the state, sharing that “school can be a place to heal and grow, to be with friends, to have the support of a whole team of adults….. Let’s work together to make attendance a priority.” These TV spots are part of a larger campaign led by Massachusetts’ K-12 education department, including billboards and ads on the radio and public transportation encouraging regular attendance. 

Similarly, in Ohio, the Ohio Department of Education has taken a multi-channel approach with their Stay in the Game! Network, partnering with districts, community organizations, and even sports teams to reinforce the importance of regular attendance. Our partners at Columbus City Schools have been proud participants in this initiative, and have also motivated their students to attend every day with a special trip to the Ohio State women’s basketball game.   

Strategic Investments & Funding

While districts across the country saw a surge in funding during the pandemic years, those funds will soon be sunsetted, even if chronic absenteeism lingers. But numerous states have recognized that all of those investments go to waste when students aren’t there to benefit. In Virginia, the ALL IN VA campaign has dedicated over $400 million for addressing chronic absenteeism and learning loss. 

In California, districts have been encouraged to use various funding streams, including the $4.1 billion in community schools funding, to address chronic absenteeism challenges.  

Another facet to the challenge that makes these strategic investments in attendance so critical is that many teachers don’t view attendance improvement or making home visits to be a part of their job. With so many demands on their time already, not everyone is on board with making additional calls or visits home to families. Districts can support busy educators by partnering with experts who can handle this work, like EveryDay Labs for sending home attendance texts and letters and connecting families to the resources they need to attend more regularly. 

Incentivizing Families, Students, and… Politicians?

There are many opinions around how to best incentivize students and families to attend school more regularly. Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz about a potential pilot in Ohio that proposes to pay kindergarteners and ninth graders for good attendance. The cash would go to parents for good kindergarten attendance, and be split by parents and students for the high schoolers. There’s even more money on the table for students with high GPAs! 

But it’s not just students who are missing. Many states are now struggling with a teaching shortage. A South Carolina legislator proposed that all legislator’s in the state should have to substitute teach or volunteer in schools at least 5 times a year, not only to support the shortage of teachers, but also to gain first hand exposure to the challenges that educators face every day, which may perhaps incentivize some new education policies.

Looking for supportive solutions to help you address attendance in your district? We’re ready to help—reach out anytime!

Getting students on track starts with attendance. We can help.