Bill would improve attendance for Maine’s youngest schoolchildren

Posted: February 10, 2019 | Education and Cultural Affairs, Senator Libby

AUGUSTA — Legislation from Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, would give Maine schools the tools they need to ensure all students, regardless of their age, receive the education they need and deserve.

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 what age, is appropriate for their children. It received a public hearing Monday in the Legislature’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.

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.

“Missing thirty or more days of school per year puts a student at a severe disadvantage that is difficult, and in many cases impossible, to make up,” said Sen. Libby. “At these young ages, the students themselves are not making the decision to skip school, and chronically absent students are missing out on foundational instruction that will play a large part in determining their long-term success in their academic career.”

The Maine Principals’ Association, Maine School Boards Association, Maine School Superintendents Association, and Maine Education Association all spoke in favor of LD 150. No one opposed the bill.

“Our associations support this bill because of the clear link between early education and a child’s success in school,” said Steven Bailey of the Maine School Boards Association and Eileen King of the Maine School Superintendents Association. “That link, however, is broken, or at best weakened, if the child’s attendance is sporadic. Poor attendance in kindergarten, if left unchecked, also could lead to bad habits for both parents and students and set the stage for high absenteeism throughout a child’s education.”

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 a broad, bipartisan majority: unanimous in the Senate and with a 99-45 vote in the House. Unfortunately, the bill was vetoed and the veto was not overridden.

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee will hold a work session on LD 150 in the coming weeks, before sending its recommendation to the full Legislature.