TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Kristin M. Corrado to tackle student absenteeism in public schools was signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy today.
The new law amends current law to require “school report cards” to include data on the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent and the number and percentage of students who received a disciplinary suspension.
“Reducing chronic absenteeism rates in our public schools is a key piece in ensuring the success of our students,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Chronic absenteeism is an educational opportunity lost and can have significant impacts on a student’s performance in school and life. Children cannot learn if they are not in the classroom. We need to do all that we can to improve attendance and keep students on track with their educational goals.”
The law requires the Commissioner of Education to annually review the chronic absenteeism rates of each school and school district and report on the rates to the State Board of Education. It requires the Commissioner to develop a definition for “chronically absent” by rule within 90 days.
If 10 percent or more of the students in a public school are chronically absent, then the school will be required to create a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates. The law will require that each corrective action plan identify problems and barriers to school attendance, develop recommendations to address the problems and barriers that were identified, outline communication strategies to educate and inform parents on the importance of school attendance, establish protocols on informing and engaging parents when a child begins to show a pattern of absences, and contain a review of school policies to ensure they support improved school attendance.
Under the law, the school will be required to solicit input from parents of students currently attending the school which should include, at minimum, a parental survey. The law will also require the school to engage with the school’s parent organization, and if there is no such organization, the school will be required to hold a public meeting. These findings and recommendations will be annually presented to the board of education until the percentage that is chronically absent falls below 10 percent.
According to the Advocates for Children of New Jersey report, “Showing Up Matters,” released in September 2016, approximately 136,000 or 10 percent of New Jersey students in grades K-12 were chronically absent during the 2014-2015 school year. The problem is most prevalent in the State’s 216 “high-absenteeism” districts. The number of high-absenteeism districts increased from the 2013-2014 school year which only had 177 high-absenteeism districts. Passaic, Essex, and Cumberland Counties all had the highest rates of chronic absenteeism. Morris, Somerset, and Hunterdon had the lowest levels of chronic absenteeism.
Chronic absenteeism is generally most prevalent at the beginning and end of students’ formal education, with the highest percentages occurring in kindergarten and high school. The long-term negative impacts of chronic absenteeism include reading difficulties, lower gains in math skills and general knowledge, lower test scores, poor attendance in future school years, and weaker social-emotional skills.