Posted: March 12, 2015 | Education and Cultural Affairs, Senator Libby

Chronic absence impedes learning and foretells dropout rates

AUGUSTA – A measure aimed at reducing chronic absence from school received support from lawmakers, educators, and school administrators today at a public hearing in the state’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

The bill, LD 311,  “An Act To Improve Attendance at Public Elementary Schools,” would give school boards the local authority to reduce the minimum age required for school attendance from seven years to five; and, that those five year olds would then be subject to the same truancy provisions as those who are seven years and older.

Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston

Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston

“At this age, students themselves are not making the decision to skip school. By allowing truancy officers to check in on and work with students and families, they can problem-solve the underlying issues causing chronic absence,” said Democratic Senator Nate Libby of Lewiston, the bill’s sponsor. “Chronic absenteeism among our youngest students means that they are missing out on foundational instruction that will play a large part in determining the student’s long term success in their academic career.”

According to Sen. Libby’s testimony, the Lewiston school department has struggled to address chronic absence among five and six year olds. Without being able to deploy truancy officers, some children are missing upwards of 30 days putting students, according to Sen. Libby “at a severe disadvantage that is in many cases impossible to make up.”

Last year in Lewiston, 20 percent of pre-K and 14 percent of first graders were chronically absent.

The measure attempts to make no changes to students who are home-schooled or attend a private school. Senator Libby is working with the committee to further clarify that intent by including language that explicitly states the proposed law only applies to five and six year old children who are enrolled in school between.

“A parent’s right to make decisions about student attendance must be preserved,” added Sen. Libby.

The Assistant Superintendent of Lewiston Schools, Maine School Management Association, and the Maine Educational Association all testified in support of the measure.

“Poor attendance is often a key indicator of challenges at home and foretells future dropouts and poor workplace habits,” testified Tom Jarvis, Assistant Superintendent of Lewiston Schools.

According to his testimony, the Attendance Works research bank found that students who missed 10 percent of school days in kindergarten and first grade were four times more likely not to be proficient in reading in math in third grade. And, 50 percent of students who were chronically absent for just two years would eventually drop out of school.

The state’s committee on Education and Cultural Affairs will hold a work session on the measure in the coming weeks.