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Legislation proposed to fight chronic absenteeism

By Jillian Luchner

In April, Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) introduced the Chronic Absenteeism Reduction Action (H.R. 1864), which would open up additional funds to be used for strategies to reduce school day absence by amending Title IV-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Defined as an individual student missing a significant number of school days (usually 10 percent or more of the school year) including excused and unexcused absences, chronic absenteeism is associated with lower academic performance. The bill contains three main provisions to expand use of authorized Title IV-A funds (also known as Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants) to reduce chronic absenteeism:

  1. Data collection to monitor student progress
  2. Partnerships with local service providers (such as health, transportation and social services) to meet the unique needs of students with struggling attendance
  3. Mentoring programs

Each of these provisions is backed by research showing the positive effects these actions have on reducing chronic absenteeism. As the legislation notes, "students who meet regularly with mentors are 52 percent less likely to miss a day of school than their peers."

The bipartisan bill is endorsed by a number of youth development, health, justice, and education groups including the Afterschool Alliance, National Mentoring Partnership, School Superintendents Association, Campaign for Youth Justice, and Healthy Schools Campaign.

Expansion of Title IV-A funding

H.R. 1864 does not create a new funding stream, but expands allowable uses of the Title IV-A funding, which itself is a new funding mechanism created in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Title IV-A operates as a block grant consolidating many prior funding streams (for school counselors, math and science partnerships, and physical education funds, for example) under one flexible block grant. However, the block grant has yet to have an appropriations level set by Congress—the funding level decided in the fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill will have large implications for how states and districts use the funds.

At the level authorized for Title IV-A in the Every Student Succeeds Act, $1.6 billion, states would be issuing funding to districts under formula grants that are determined by the number of low-income children. Every eligible district would receive some level of funding and districts receiving more than $30,000 would be required to conduct a local needs assessment to broadly consider how funding should be spent to serve the local community. However, the 2017 proposed appropriations bill funds the program at $400 million and, as a result would permit Title IV-A to operate as a competitive grant program at the state level, or as a formula grant as long as districts receive a minimum $10,000 of funds. Advocates remain hopeful that the low allocation in FY 2017, as compared with the authorized level, will be only temporary and future appropriations will ensure enough for the formula grants to be carried out as outlined in the law.

Chronic absenteeism as an accountability indicator

Addressing chronic absenteeism as a strategy for school improvement and student achievement is not limited to Title IV-A but is part of a much broader discussion. ESSA requires states to collect and report on school-district level measures of chronic absenteeism for the first time. Many states include chronic absenteeism as an indicator within their state accountability systems, which will make it a key component in identifying whether schools are categorized as successful or struggling and in need of intervention. To see which states have considered the chronic absenteeism indicator in their plan, see our state map and click on the indicator tabs in the bottom right.

Afterschool programs help promote student engagement during the school day, and can be a contributor in reducing chronic absenteeism and increasing student attendance. To see the evidence base for how afterschool programs help to reduce chronic absenteeism, see our fact sheet.

Getting students to come to school each day to learn is a joint effort. It requires informing families and stakeholders of the value of regular attendance, using data systems that help identify students in need of extra support, applying the best research to use interventions that work, and creating welcoming, engaging environments in and out of school that make students and families feel connected, important, and motivated. Afterschool programs are good partners to these efforts.

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learn more about: ESEA Federal Policy Legislation