Across Mississippi in October and November, school districts are emphasizing the importance of attendance. Beyond the basic concept of showing up in order to learn, the state provides per-pupil funding based on the attendance during these two months.

These attendance numbers can result in a loss of funding for school districts, but they also expose a serious issue that impacts a student’s education. One of the most significant challenges educators throughout Northeast Mississippi face every day is student absences – students can’t learn if they aren’t at school.

Chronic absence is defined as any student absent 10% or more of the time that he was enrolled in any school and any student who misses 50% or more of a school day.

In Mississippi, the absentee rate stood at 10.3% in 2011 and increased to 14.15% in 2017, according to data provided by the Kids Count organization.

All school districts in Northeast Mississippi saw an increase in absenteeism from the 2010-2011 school year compared to numbers in 2016-2017. Benton County had the highest jump from 7.8% in 2011 compared to 20.3% in 2017. Pontotoc County was 7.1% in 2011 and 17.5% in 2017, followed closely by Monroe County with 9.9% in 2011 and 24.3% in 2017. New Albany had the lowest absenteeism rate of 9.25% in 2017, compared to 7.4% in 2011.

Each day missed potentially weakens what a student learns and how a student performs on tests measuring academic achievement and progress. Student absences lead to lower levels of literacy by third grade and higher likelihood of high school dropout and lower rates of college completion.

A sound, basic education is only possible when we work to ensure that students are in school every day and receive the support they need to learn and thrive.

When schools, communities and policymakers recognize and address factors leading to chronic absenteeism, trends to failure can be reversed. Schooling and jobs require high attendance standards, and it must start in school.

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