Representatives from the Maryland State Department of Education, Maryland Association of Boards of Education and Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland met recently with members of the Ways and Means Committee in the Maryland House of Delegates.
At that meeting, all three advocacy groups expressed their support for fully funding the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, also known as the Kirwan Report.
Along with the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future there is another issue that has had and will have a significant impact on public education in Maryland.
That issue is chronic absenteeism.
The Maryland Department of Education defines chronic absenteeism as missing more than 20 days in a school year, no matter the reason.
WYPR, the public broadcasting corporation’s flagship radio station in Baltimore recently introduced a news report on this issue with the following lead in:
“Chronic absenteeism ‘real concern’ Maryland lawmakers & educators aim to address.”
WYPR cited Maryland Board of Education data indicating that over one-third of Maryland K-12 students missed 10% or more school days last year, with 54.1% of Baltimore City students and 34.7% of Baltimore County students hitting that mark.
The consequences of chronic absenteeism are serious and long lasting.
Maryland Board of Education President Clarence Crawford has observed that ‘chronic absenteeism can adversely impact a child for a lifetime.” He noted research has shown that “chronic absenteeism impacts test scores, grades, and children’s ability to be able to graduate.” He also noted “chronic absenteeism increases the likelihood of engagement with the criminal justice system.”
Especially disheartening in the Maryland Board of Education data that nearly 35% of children in kindergarten statewide are chronically absent.
Sue Fothergill, a senior fellow at Attendance Works (a national nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the negative impacts of absenteeism), says “In early grades, some of our families think, ‘Well, it’s just kindergarten, or it’s just first grade, children can miss a few days here and there, it’s not that big of a deal.’ The reality though, is that those are the most important formative years, not just for learning to read, but learning social emotional skills, and establishing habits that help those young people throughout their careers. When a child is chronically absent in kindergarten, they are less likely to be proficient in reading by third grade as at that point, teachers often switch to content-focused learning. It becomes much harder to catch a child up and be able to learn how to read as they matriculate through their years, because they’ve missed those formative years.”
Governor Moore and state lawmakers are aware of and have already demonstrated a level of concern and action on this problem.
At a recent “Improving Student Achievement” event in Washington D.C Governor Moore said, “We know that there are real obstacles we still have to address.”
In the State House and the State Senate, legislation has been introduced to establish a task force to study chronic absenteeism in Maryland’s public schools.
The legislation as introduced, requires the task force to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly by December 1, 2024.
Going forward, local and state funding levels for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future will continue to generate enormous amounts of dialogue and deliberation at local governments throughout Maryland and in the General Assembly. That is to be expected as the Blueprint is a multi-year initiative that mandates a projected $3.8 billion increase above current levels of local and state funding for public education in Maryland.
A critical element of success in public education requires more than mandated increases of local and state funding.
It requires more than awareness of, concern about, and discussions on the issue of chronic absenteeism.
What is needed is a sense of urgency on action to address chronic absenteeism in every public school in Maryland.
David Reel is a consultant who provides counsel and services on strategy, advocacy, and media on public affairs issues. He lives in Easton.