Report: Nearly a third of Florida students are ‘chronically absent’ from school

Exam tables set up in a sports hall for exams in a high school &
The House Education Quality Subcommittee began grappling with a plague at the state's schools that has worsened since the pandemic.

Florida might have been among the first states to reopen its schools following the COVID-19 outbreak, but the state is exhibiting symptoms of a national plague that has worsened since the virus’s debut: school absenteeism.

That’s the news that the House Education Subcommittee received during a presentation from three consultants and a Florida Department of Education official this week. 

Republican Rep. Dana Trabulsy of Fort Pierce noted that 30% of the state’s students — that’s about 987,000 students — are chronically absent from school. That’s broadly defined as when kids miss 10% of school — or 18 days a year — of the prescribed 180 days that make an academic year.

“This is not a small number,” Trabulsy said, noting that she didn’t know about how bad it was until about 16 months ago.

The House Education Quality Subcommittee Chairwoman noted that chronic absenteeism is linked to poor outcomes in the most basic building blocks of life — starting with graduating from high school.

The situation is grim, said Hedy Chang, founder and Executive Director of Attendance Works, an initiative aimed at addressing the underlying causes of school absenteeism.

More than 70% of Florida schools have 20% of their students meeting the definition of chronically absent, and that affects the entire school, Cheng said.

“With the churn happening in that situation, the impact on both teaching and learning is affecting all kids,” Chang said.

Chang’s group provided lawmakers with statistics on schools in their area and some of them were aghast at what they read.

Democratic Rep. Joe Casello of Boynton Beach noted that a charter school in his city, Quantum High School, had an 88% absentee rate, 15% proficiency in reading and graduation rate at 23%.

“How do we intervene in a charter school?” Casello asked. “And the bigger question is how do they keep the charter recognized?”

Trabulsy noted that some schools are even worse off. The research found some of the state’s schools had 98% of their school population defined as chronically absent.

Discussion ensued about how schools count absences can vary widely from school to school and how data collection needs to be standardized so education officials can get a better grasp on the size and scope of the problem. Trabulsy alluded to legislation that may be forthcoming.

Rep. Jennifer Canady said that perhaps children and parents don’t feel like school has a lot to offer.

“We need to continue to make school a place that kids don’t want to miss and parents are clear about the positive, important things that happen there every day,” said the Lakeland Republican.

Trabulsy said the pandemic certainly heightened awareness of the problem that she believes has been on the rise for years before this.

“Kids were displaced during the pandemic and we still don’t know where they are,” she said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


7 comments

  • Biscuit

    December 8, 2023 at 12:22 pm

    NewsExcretion out of Tallahassee, Florida: Members of the Republican dominated State Legislature, having spent the last few years condemning public schools and labeling teachers and school librarians “groomers,” are scratching their heads trying to figure out why students and their parents don’t understand the need to attend school.
    If only Rodney Dangerfield was with us to explain to them the value of respect.
    Arf.

    • No Consequences In Florida

      December 8, 2023 at 12:25 pm

      If the kids were out working or solving problems, okay, skip Gym and other electives.

      Skip math? Not advised.

  • KathrynA

    December 8, 2023 at 8:22 pm

    This education issue explains a lot in Florida! Think 1/3 are habitually absent and another large group go to private schools of which many are not accredited and many home schoolers are not educated properly; and we have a huge crisis coming for Florida. There used to be enforced truancy laws. Seems like more should be done in this regard. We need an educated populace to provide a good work force and one able to provide well for themselves and their families. We need thinking people to face the ever changing dynamics of our world.

    • TJC

      December 9, 2023 at 12:30 pm

      The problem for Republican leaders in this state is that better educated citizens will not be satisfied to fill the kind of jobs needed to sustain a tourism economy. While restaurants, hotels, and theme parks do have managerial level jobs to offer, the vast majority of the employees are underpaid servers, cleaners, ride operators, etc. So it works for this Governor and our Legislators to have a mediocre education system.
      If we offered first rate education opportunities, our students would take it — and many would leave the state for better career opportunities. Then we would need the help of migrants from Mexico, Central America, and South America, and we know how Republicans feel about that, don’t we.

      • Dont Say FLA

        December 9, 2023 at 1:15 pm

        Regarding migrants coming from Mexico, Central America, and South America, do we really know how Republicans feel about that?

        Republicans claim to be against immigrants from the South, yet they have not done anything to change the situation. All they do is blather about it and stoke fears.

        Fact is, Republicans are 100pct fine with the functionality of the USA’s Southern border. They get cheap labor sneaking in, and they get 2A related sales sneaking out.

        2A, the border, they’re both all about the bottom line. Everything is perfect on both topics in the opinions of the people who matter!

  • Dont Say FLA

    December 9, 2023 at 1:11 pm

    #1 Homeschooling was too much work, so Florida’s Moms decided to be for Liberty rather than the education of children.

    #2 The kids are participating in Secular Skip Days where they study science and read books rather than wasting the day in a Florida school

Comments are closed.


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