Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, co-sponsored a bill designed to curtail chronic school absences by granting schools and districts more flexibility in solving the problem.
“Sadly, Washington state has one of the worst chronic absenteeism rates in the nation, and we must work to eliminate obstacles keeping students in Southwest Washington from making the most of their school years,” Herrera Beutler said in a media release.
Chronic school absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of classes. Missing school is often linked to a whole host of other factors inside and outside of a student’s control, ranging from homelessness to transportation barriers to personal indifference toward education.
But its outcomes are overwhelmingly negative. Chronically absent students are 68 percent less likely to graduate high school. More than 7 million students, or about 14 percent of the total population of students nationwide, were chronically absent during the 2015-16 school year, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found.
Statewide, the problem is worse. In 2016-17, Washington had the second-highest rate of chronically absent students at 16.7 percent, behind only Washington, D.C.
Local schools, however, are already showing a positive trend — Vancouver Public Schools saw its chronic absentee rate drop every year from 2013 to 2017.
Kym Tyelyn-Carlson, VPS executive director of teaching and learning, told The Columbian in 2017 that the trend reflected work by individual staff to identify why students aren’t coming to school.
“We’re working,” Tyelyn-Carlson said, “to remove those kinds of barriers.”
What would the bill do?
The Chronic Absenteeism Reduction in Every School Act, or H.R 4220, would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to allow schools and districts to use federal funds for programs and activities that direct chronic absenteeism.
Vague, perhaps, but that’s the point — something that “empowers schools to tailor solutions that get students to school, and help them stay in school,” Herrera Beutler said.
The bill doesn’t allocate any new funds to the effort, relying on existing education money.
H.R. 4220 was introduced by Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, on Aug. 30. Herrera Beutler is its first and so far only co-sponsor.
“Chronic absenteeism is a national crisis, and our local educators and policymakers need the necessary tools to track and combat this issue head on,” Ryan said in the media release.
It’s the second time the two lawmakers have partnered to try and address chronic absenteeism. A near-identical bill, the Chronic Absenteeism Reduction Act, was introduced by Ryan in 2017 and cosponsored by Beutler before a bipartisan group of 11 other lawmakers signed on to the bill. It ultimately died in committee.