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Vainieri Huttle Bill to Address High Rate of Student Absenteeism in Public Schools Clears Assembly Panel

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle to tackle student absenteeism in New Jersey’s public schools was released Monday by an Assembly panel.

The bill is in response to a report by Advocates for Children of New Jersey that found that about 10 percent of New Jersey students missed more than 10 percent of the 2013-2014 school year.

The organization reviewed state Department of Education data and found that about 125,000 K-12 students missed 18 or more school days. Across the state, 177 school districts had more than 10 percent of their students chronically absent.

“Every day a student misses school sets them back a bit. When it is a chronic occurrence, it can set them up for academic failure,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “It is easy to jump to conclusions and assume these students are just not interested in school, but the reasons can be more complex like an unstable home life or a lack of transportation. Having a coalition of people who can step in and get to the root of the problem can help cut down on school absences and keep students on the right track.”

This bill (A-4693) requires that, in the event that ten percent or more of the students enrolled in a public school are chronically absent, the school must convene a Chronic Absenteeism Coalition.

The coalition must include at least one parent and one teacher from the school community, and other members deemed appropriate by the principal. The purpose of the coalition will be to regularly review and monitor school chronic absenteeism and develop a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates. The coalition must annually present its findings and recommendations to the board of education until the percentage of the student body that is chronically absent falls below ten percent.

The bill also requires the Commissioner of Education to include in School Report Cards data on the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent and the number and percentage of students who received a disciplinary suspension. The commissioner must annually review the chronic absenteeism rates of each school and school district and report on the rates to the State Board of Education.

As used in the bill, “chronically absent” means a student’s attendance record includes a total number of absences, including excused absences, unexcused absences, and absences due to disciplinary actions, that meets or exceeds 10 percent of the total number of school days in the school year, or in the case of a student who enrolls in the school after the beginning of the school year, 10 percent of the total number of school days from the date of enrollment until the end of the school year.

“Chronic absenteeism not only hurts students, but interrupts the learning process, as teachers must dedicate more time to absentee students to get them up to speed,” added Vainieri Huttle. “School districts with high absenteeism rates that made a concerted effort to thwart absenteeism among their students have seen their absentee rates drop. With the right focus, it can be done.”

The bill was released by the Assembly Education Committee.