Nearly 1 in 7 kids chronically missing school

New bill would double funding for programs that help

High school students (KOIN, file)
High school students (KOIN, file)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — As the school year comes to a close, government statistics say a huge number of students aren’t getting to class as often as they should.

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights Data Collection found that 14% of students were chronically absent during the 2013-2014 school year, meaning 6.8 million students missed more than 10% of the school year.

Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb said the bulk of the problem is often caused by outside factors in the students’ lives.

“It could be transportation. It could be childcare in the morning with younger siblings. It could be housing and homelessness,” he said. “We’ve got to think more strategically and systemically in responding to those barriers.”

Dr. Webb was one of several Washington superintendents who met with Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Washington) Wednesday. Rep. Herrera Beutler has introduced legislation that would double the funding available to schools for programs that take on the outside barriers keeping students from school.

“We put those together and added about 200 million (dollars),” Rep. Herrera Beutler said. “We tried to add upwards of a billion (dollars), but the Senate brought us down a little. But still, the overall amount is about $200 million more than what’s currently available.”

The money could be used to help students with transportation to school, as well as to establish mentorship programs or address mental healthcare deficiencies. All of those programs have been shown to reduce the rate of absences.

Rep. Herrera Beutler says the bill allows for flexibility among schools, so they can tailor their spending to best fit their students.

“They can use it in a few different ways,” she said. “That was the goal.”

The Chronic Absenteeism Reduction Act was introduced in April by Rep. Herrera-Beutler and Congressman Tim Ryan (D, Ohio).