Posted: May 07, 2015 | Education and Cultural Affairs, Senator Libby

Chronic absence among young learners impedes learning and foretells dropout rates

AUGUSTA – A measure aimed at reducing chronic absence from school was enacted by the Maine Senate today.

The bill, LD 311, “An Act To Improve Attendance at Public Elementary Schools,” amended in committee, gives school boards the local authority to extend truancy laws for five and six year olds who are already enrolled in Kindergarten or First grade.

Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston

Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston

“This measure is an important step in improving attendance among school-enrolled five and six year olds who are at a critical point of development and learning. 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,” said Democratic Senator Nate Libby of Lewiston, the bill’s sponsor. “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.”

According to Senator Libby, the Lewiston school department has struggled on how best 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–which according to Senator Libby’s testimony during the public hearing, puts young students “at a severe disadvantage that is, in many case, impossible to make up.”

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

The measure makes no changes to students who are home-schooled or attend a private school. Senator Libby worked 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–and remains preserved in this bill,” added Sen. Libby.

During the public hearing in the state’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, 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 the Attendance Works research bank, 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 measure will go to the governor to become law.