Indiana lawmakers struggle to find fix for absenteeism

  • Comments
  • Print

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Indiana.

Too many students in Indiana are missing school. And Indiana lawmakers have struggled to find a fix for the issue of absenteeism.

Finding a balance between punitive and proactive measures to fix absenteeism where it’s highest — in the earliest grades and in high school — has evaded Indiana lawmakers trying to grapple with the state’s absenteeism rates, which peaked during COVID and still remain high in Indiana and nationwide.

With Senate Bill 282, which members of the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development approved unanimously on Wednesday, they seek to begin to address the bell curve of absenteeism.

“There are younger students that have truancy issues, and there are older students. Trying to wrap your arms around that 900-pound gorilla I found to be absolutely impossible,” said said Sen. Stacey Donato, a Republican from Logansport and the bill’s author.

GOP lawmakers flagged absenteeism as a priority for their agenda this year. But they had yet to bring a bill forward before Wednesday, the last opportunity for bills to be heard in the education committee before midway deadlines.

The proposals targeting each side of the bell curve are different.

First, it prescribes steps that schools must take to contact the parents of truant elementary students and provide them information and wraparound services to help improve attendance.

The bill also urges the bipartisan Legislative Council to further study absenteeism this summer — including ways to promote school attendance and age-appropriate consequences for habitually truant students — which will help address absenteeism among older students, Donato said.

“We’re going to do our absolute best to get those children the services that they need, the parents the services that they need, and work with those children to get them to school so that they can learn to read,” Donato said.

Donato ended up heavily amending her original bill, which in its initial form prescribed both punitive and preventative measures that schools could use to curb habitual truancy.

It would have referred more students to juvenile courts, which could have assessed fines of up to $1,000 to parents of truant students and assigned community service to the students themselves.

Absenteeism is ‘far beyond’ scope of one bill

Under Donato’s revised bill, schools would be required to notify parents of elementary students in writing of their student’s absences, their responsibility to ensure their student’s attendance, and the possible consequences for failing to do so, like juvenile court intervention. Schools would need to hold attendance conferences with parents no more than five days after the student’s fifth unexcused absence in a 10-week period.

The revised bill also mandates that schools create behavior plans to improve students’ attendance, and offer counseling to address any underlying issues keeping them from attending school.

Donato’s amended bill received support from a wide array of groups, including the Indiana Teachers Association, the Indiana School Social Workers Association, and the Indiana School Boards Association. They said they would have opposed the bill as originally written.

“This is an issue that goes far beyond what any one bill could possibly fix,” said Joel Hand, representing the School Social Workers Association. “But this is a step in the right direction.”

You can track SB 282 on the General Assembly’s website.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

6 thoughts on “Indiana lawmakers struggle to find fix for absenteeism

  1. Her’s a thought:

    Maybe, just MAYBE, it isn’t the job of part-time legislators to figure out why absenteeism is high. Maybe it’s the job of professional educators and administrators.

    1. Our part time legislators don’t let their unsuitability for the task stop them from all kinds of attempts to solve problems that don’t exist or aren’t really a problem.

      Their interest in solving issues generally ends as soon as the concept of spending money enters the equation.

      Kids are absent for many reasons. Maybe ask the parents who struggle to get their kids to school.

  2. Defund the schools for absenteeism and let the local school board pressure the administration to fix the problem!

    Let’s keep government closer to the people and less centralized!

    1. Strong contender for worst take of the year.

      This is akin to saying Walmart should be shut down because people don’t show up for work.

  3. It is very obvious that making affordable reliable before and after school child care services available so parents can get to work on time and stay the whole work day would solve most of the absentee problem.
    Demanding school attendance with punishments that can cause parents to choose between getting their children to school or losing their jobs is just stupid.

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In