Mississippi students’ chronic absenteeism outpaces border states

Published 2:47 pm Monday, July 8, 2024

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JACKSON — A new report shows Mississippi’s K-12 chronic absenteeism rate has surged at a much faster rate than border states.

Similarly, Adams County had over 10 percent more students marked chronically absent than neighboring Concordia Parish, Louisiana in the same reporting year.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the time enrolled in school, approximately two days a month.

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The report released today by State Auditor Shad White shows Mississippi outpaces border states with 24.7 percent of students chronically absent from school during the 2023-2024 school year.

The statewide absentee rate increased from the prior reporting year when it was 23.9 percent, according to earlier data released by the Mississippi Department of Education. Natchez Adams School District’s reported percentage of chronically absent students in the 2022-2023 school year was better than the state at 18.14 percent but not better than Concordia Parish, which recorded an attendance of 92.3 percent with 7.7 percent of students chronically absent, according to Louisiana Department of Education data.

Border school districts in Franklin and Jefferson counties also reported slightly better attendance than Adams with 16.8 percent of students marked chronically absent in Franklin and 17.3 percent of students in Jefferson. Wilkinson County, to the south of Adams County, had a chronic absenteeism rate of 30.2 percent.

“Mississippi’s K-12 absenteeism problem is a massive cost for taxpayers, as our report lays out,” White said. “Part of my job is telling taxpayers what is driving the biggest costs in government, and in coming years, our absenteeism rate is statistically likely to lead to more drop-outs, more incarcerations, more dependence on social services, and a big bill for Mississippi taxpayers.”

As chronic absenteeism in K-12 schools skyrocketed across the country since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Mississippi has been hit particularly hard. In 2019, Mississippi compared favorably to its border states with a 14% chronic absentee rate. But by 2023, Mississippi outpaced its border states with a 24.7% chronic absentee rate, a 76.4% increase.

A review of academic literature shows students who are chronically absent have an increased chance of dropping out of school, which leads to a higher likelihood of getting arrested or relying on social services later in life. Analysts estimate that the number of students who were chronically absent before dropping out of school in AY 2023 alone will cost the Mississippi economy $550 million over time.

White’s report also makes several recommendations for the legislature to consider to address the issue, such as altering Mississippi’s School Accountability Ratings to include attendance; passing laws that link driver’s license privileges to school attendance; and reorganizing and hiring additional school attendance officers.

“Kids need to be in school,” said White. “We pump a ton of taxpayer money into our K-12 school system, but it does no good if the students’ tails are not in the seats. Now is the time to address this before the problem gets worse.”

To read the auditor’s full report, click here.