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Business Community Alarmed by New School Chronic Absenteeism Numbers

Employee attendance is one of the most critical components of the employee-employer relationship. There is a direct relationship between attendance and a company’s success. Companies with high absenteeism numbers aren’t very successful and typically aren’t around very long.

Poor attendance in the workplace can lead to low productivity, poor customer service, higher costs, and low employee morale. Absences are impossible to prevent, life happens. But limiting those absences to a reasonable level is key. In general, companies strive for an absenteeism rate of 1.5 percent or less.   

Recent local, state, and national reports about attendance in K-12 Schools have caught the attention of employers and caused great concern about the habits developing in the future workforce. Should those trends continue as students enter the job market, the impacts could be devastating for businesses.

Nationally, chronic absenteeism, that is the number of students missing at least 10% of the school year, has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2022, almost 30 percent of students were chronically absent. That number declined slightly in 2023 but remains 67 percent higher than the national pre-pandemic baseline.

National numbers show larger increases in chronic absenteeism in historically low-achieving districts, in high-poverty districts, and in high-minority districts. But generally, all districts are part of the growing trend of increased absences.  

The stories in Indiana and Michigan are similar, with nearly 20 percent of Indiana students not showing up for class regularly, and nearly 30 percent in Michigan. For reference, in both states, there are 180 school days in the school year, and anyone missing more than 18 days is chronically absent.

This attendance crisis has caught the attention of leaders everywhere for good reason, when kids don’t show up, they are more likely to fall behind academically. Chronic absenteeism was recently a hot topic of conversation at the October Indiana State Board of Education meeting and the most recent data was shared.

Our region outpaced Indiana, meaning our students were absent more. A quick glance at the data shows that in eight of the larger districts in the region, we generally averaged 30 percent chronic absenteeism in 2022; and 26 percent in 2023. Perhaps some hope lies ahead, most of those districts saw some decrease in those numbers in 2023.

Generally, a deeper dive into the data reveals information that I think we might all expect. Chronic absenteeism generally rises as students get older. Seniors in high school have the highest rate at 33 percent. Or, as employers view it, that last step before many of those seniors will enter the workforce.  

So what is a community to do? How do we reverse the trend? How do we get kids to understand the importance of being in class? How do we make sure students take advantage of all that is available to them at school that will prepare them better for success in life? No easy answers to those, and the many more questions you’re probably asking yourselves right now.

This is a community problem, and it will take the whole community to solve it. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators bear some responsibility, but so does the entire community. Business leaders, pastors, service providers, and neighbors, all can play roles too.

Together, we all can create the right environment for student success and support. And we may just have to do it one student at a time. Though there is a need for urgency, we have to eat this elephant one bite at a time. Let's all rally behind this priority, set realistic goals to improve on these numbers, and provide the support necessary to change the current trajectory.

Students aren’t going to last too long in the workforce if they are chronically absent. Let's develop in them the habits now that will make them healthy and productive workers and critical drivers to a company’s future success.




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