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 Chronic Absenteeism Affects Entire Community

Chronic absenteeism is a problem that affects everybody, not just the students involved.

Students who miss school frequently, even at an early age, are more likely to drop out. Having a high dropout rate creates obvious problems for students, but it also can have serious economic and social ramifications on the entire community.

On top of that, our schools are losing money because most school districts are funded based on daily attendance. Across the county, absences have cost school districts more than $100 million a year, according to a report from the California Attorney General.

The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) has joined a nationwide effort to recognize Attendance Awareness Month in September and has pledged to raise awareness about the value of regular school attendance while focusing on reducing chronic absenteeism in 2014-15.

Nationwide an estimated 5 million to 7.5 million students are chronically absent each year, meaning they miss 10 percent or more of the school year in excused and unexcused absences. That’s about 18 or 19 days in a typical year.

A student who is chronically absent any year between eighth and 12th grade was 7.4 times more likely to drop out, one study shows. It has been estimated that dropouts cost the state more than $46 billion each year, including increased incarceration costs and lower tax revenues.

Chronic Absenteeism isn’t just a high school problem. One in 10 kindergarten and first-grade students is chronically absent each year. Those students are less likely to read proficiently by the time they finish third grade. Only about 17 percent of students who were chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade could read at grade level by the end of third grade, compared to 62 percent for those who attended regularly, according to preliminary statewide data.

This September, schools, city agencies, community nonprofits, faith-based groups, businesses and other organizations around the nation are coming together to deliver the message that every school day counts. They are committing time and resources to raise public awareness, dig deeper into attendance data and work with community partners to improve school attendance starting as soon as children enter school.

Chronic absence can be reduced when schools, communities and families work together to build a culture of attendance and address barriers to good attendance.