Students’ Chronic Absenteeism Is a Growing Issue

Impacts Arizona’s business health and economy

by Dawn Gerundo

Chronic absenteeism among Arizona students has steadily increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, putting students and our future Arizona leaders at risk. Chronic absenteeism increased from 14% in 2019 to 34% in 2022, according to data from the Arizona Department of Education.

When a K-12 student misses 10% or more of the school year, they are considered chronically absent. This puts students at an increased risk of failing classes and dropping out altogether, thus minimizing their opportunities to secure a high-paying job.

While chronic absenteeism has always been an issue, it has reached a more alarming rate than ever before, with one in three students absent from the classroom on a regular basis. Without substantial changes to help mitigate this alarming trend, there will be a subsequent impact on Arizona’s business health and economy.

Local organizations such as Valley of the Sun United Way, Read On Arizona, the Helios Education Foundation and other local nonprofits have made it their goal to decrease chronic absenteeism by providing essential education, tools and resources for parents, while working in partnership with schools and community leaders to help ensure students show up to school and be present in the classroom.

The partner organizations are working with school districts across Arizona to determine which schools need the most support and which have the highest rates of chronic absenteeism. Resources like coaching and mentorship programs will then be provided for teachers and district administrators to, ultimately, help reduce the rates of absences, in addition to public awareness campaigns to reach parents.

Part of the unified mission is to bring Arizona business leaders, nonprofit leaders, schools and citizens together to increase awareness of and reduce chronic absenteeism. Read On Arizona has launched an Arizona task force to develop resources and guidance for districts across the state, while Valley of the Sun United Way, in partnership with Helios Education Foundation, has created Supporting Attendance Across Maricopa to support schools with coaching and mentoring and to build a peer-to-peer network with the goal of decreasing chronic absenteeism by two percentage points year after year. In addition, Valley of the Sun United Way and its partners have cultivated a community action team, creating a network of key community leaders, educators, students and families to address the growing problem and the dire need for resolution through resources and advocacy.

To find a long-term solution to chronic absenteeism, schools from all over the State of Arizona will be evaluated to determine the similarities and differences of chronic absences, as chronic absenteeism can look different in communities across the state depending on the environment and circumstances of why students are missing class.

Some students say they miss class to work, to care for younger siblings, to support the older adults in their families, or they are experiencing debilitating stress from school. To keep students focused on school and not the challenging external factors in their lives like housing and homelessness, food security and health must also be addressed in each community as well.

Workforce development must be nurtured in Arizona to ensure parents and caregiving adults have opportunities to find well-paying jobs to support their students. Each child deserves to have the chance to attend school regularly and learn skills that will help them be financially stable as adults and contribute to Arizona’s future. By getting to the root causes of chronic absences, like the systemic issues present in our community, not only will the alarming rates of chronic absenteeism decline, but many other at-risk communities in Arizona will be positively impacted.

The coordinated effort between Arizona schools, business leaders, legislators and families will not only raise awareness of chronic absenteeism but will help find short- and long-term solutions to reduce the rates that negatively impact Arizona.

It starts with people willing to make this a priority and support students. With more students graduating from high school, pursuing higher education and joining the workforce, Arizona’s economy, society and government will benefit.

Making this part of the conversations Arizona is having can benefit students of all kinds and help support the future of Arizona’s economy. It is critical to continue to raise awareness, increase funding and resources for chronic absenteeism and support bills that benefit Arizona students. While there is much work to be done before the chronic absenteeism rates, there is hope for a better future where more students are present and attentive in class.

Dawn Gerundo is the community development and engagement director for education at Valley of the Sun United Way. Valley of the Sun United Way envisions a community where every child, family and individual is healthy; has a safe place to live; and has every opportunity to succeed in school, in life and in work. As VSUW works with its community, corporate and nonprofit partners to implement its five-year plan for Mighty Change by 2026, it will put all its efforts toward reaching bold goals for Maricopa County in health, housing and homelessness, education and workforce development.

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