Chronic Absenteeism: Opportunities to Support Student Health and Wellness

March 10, 2015

Chronic absenteeism is a measure that links health and education in a profoundly meaningful way.

Chronic absenteeism, defined as missing 10 percent or more of class time, is a measure that links health and education in a profoundly meaningful way. We know that student health issues are a leading cause of chronic absenteeism and, as a result, supporting student health and wellness is a key strategy for reducing chronic absenteeism. As we continue to explore chronic absenteeism, we have realized how well this topic resonates not just with school health advocates, but also with the education, health and policy communities. And in recent weeks, nothing has made this clearer than three new policy opportunities that have emerged for driving forward work on chronic absenteeism: the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights biannual survey, and closer to home, a bill introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives.

Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

There has been serious dialogue around reauthorization of ESEA — the cornerstone of federal education law that is currently known as No Child Left Behind. HSC made comments to the Senate highlighting a number of strategies to better support health in our schools. One strategy in particular resonated: tracking and reporting chronic absenteeism. The ability to empower communities to implement interventions to keep kids healthy and in school is an issue that staff of the Senate HELP committee recognizes as important. HSC provided follow-up comments to the Senate on how chronic absenteeism could be better tracked and report on within Title 1 of ESEA. We look forward to continuing to engage in conversations about how to better support school health within education reform.

ED’s Office of Civil Rights

In 1968, the Office for Civil Rights began collecting information on schools across the country — commonly referred to as the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). This ongoing survey, which 99.2% of schools complete, is an important foundation for the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts to ensure a fair and equitable education system for all, tracking issues such as teacher qualification, discipline needs, graduation rates and more. For the first time, the CRDC is collecting data around chronic absenteeism, and they were recently published on their website.

The presence of data doesn’t mean change is happening, but it does mean that the foundations for better understanding the needs of our nation’s schools exists. HSC is committed to making sure the data are supported and become actionable to support efforts to reduce health and educational disparities in our nation’s schools.

Illinois Chronic Absenteeism Commission

Last year, the state of Illinois created a task force to review truancy data and intervention strategies in Chicago Public Schools. The task force’s final report included recommendations to develop strategies around standardizing, reporting and implementing a statewide chronic absenteeism strategy. This year, HSC followed up with partners at Voices for Illinois Children, Advance Illinois, United Way and others to turn these recommendations into action. Illinois State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia has introduced a bill to establish a Chronic Absenteeism Commission to do exactly this. This bill would position the state of Illinois among the leaders in pushing forward more comprehensive strategies for the collection and reporting of attendance data.

HSC looks forward to collaborating with partners to mobilize the education, health and policy communities around chronic absenteeism. In addition, this year, chronic absenteeism will be a key priority of the National Collaborative on Education and Health, a group co-chaired by HSC and Trust for America’s Health. We see 2015 as an important year for making sure that educators and policymakers have the data necessary to drive effective interventions across the country.