Bill to improve attendance for Maine’s youngest schoolkids advances
AUGUSTA — Legislation from Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, which would give Maine schools the tools they need to ensure all students, regardless of their age, receive the education they need and deserve, advanced with a bipartisan, unanimous vote in the Legislature’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs on Monday.
The bill — LD 150 “An Act To Improve Attendance at Public Elementary Schools” — would allow school districts to extend enforcement of truancy rules to 5- and 6-year-old students enrolled in public school, while protecting the rights of parents to choose which school environment, and at what age, is appropriate for their children.
Truancy has deleterious effects on a child’s education. Chronic tardiness or absenteeism affects graduation rates, proficiency and academic performance. Maine’s truancy law currently doesn’t apply to students until they are 7 years old, leaving schools with no way to ensure that 5- and 6-year-olds who are enrolled in school are attending classes and building the solid scholastic foundation necessary for later educational success.
“There is a clear, foundational link between early childhood education and success in school, but that’s endangered – and in some cases impossible to make up – if a student is missing thirty or more days of school each year,” said Sen. Libby. “5- and 6-year-olds aren’t choosing to miss school if they’re chronically absent, but they are learning a bad habit which can haunt them the rest of their time in school, if not all through life.”
At last week’s public hearing, the Maine Principals’ Association, Maine School Boards Association, Maine School Superintendents Association, and Maine Education Association all spoke in favor of LD 150.
This is the third iteration of Sen. Libby’s bill. In 2015, the bill was opposed by homeschool advocates for inadvertently requiring school enrollment for young students. LD 150 addresses this concern by explicitly stating that the truancy law for 5- and 6-year-olds only applies to those whose parents make the affirmative decision to enroll their children in public school. Under LD 150, parents may also un-enroll their 5- and 6-year-old children from school at any time.
The 2017 bill passed with broad, bipartisan support: unanimous in the Senate and with a 99-45 vote in the House. Unfortunately, the bill was vetoed and the veto was not overridden.
LD 150 now goes to the Maine House and Senate for further votes.