Legislative Tracker: 2024 State Student-Absenteeism Bills

Updated 5/27/2024

Traditionally, schools and school districts take primary responsibility for student attendance. But recently, due to the nationwide spike in chronic absenteeism that began during the pandemic and has yet to abate, state lawmakers are taking a greater role in proposing solutions.

FutureEd has identified 71 bills introduced in 2024 by both Republicans and Democrats in 28 state legislatures that would establish new initiatives to identify, prevent, and address chronic absenteeism, which is commonly defined as missing more than 10 percent of a school year for any reason, excused or not. Some address both excused and unexcused absences, others target truancy.

So far, 12 have been enacted. Indiana’s S.B. 282 requires all schools, including charter and nonpublic schools, to establish truancy-prevention policies for kindergarten through 6th-grade students, involving early parental notification, parent attendance conferences, and individual action plans that include wraparound services and early interventions. The bill also prohibits habitually truant students from participating in extracurriculars and requires schools to report habitual truancy to local authorities. Several bills in Utah passed as well, including S.B. 177, the “Absenteeism Prevention Amendments,” that incorporates attendance into students’ grades and H.B. 82 that requires absenteeism data to be included in the state superintendent’s annual report. Utah’s H.B. 362 requires referral to alternative evidence-based interventions before referral to law enforcement or court and prohibits minors from being detained for habitual truancy.

In West Virginia, S.B. 568 establishes a comprehensive approach to addressing student absences. The bill requires schools to adopt multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) interventions and targeted solutions, including leveraging community resources, and engage parents early on to identify root causes and collaborate on prevention strategies. If students reach 10 absences, schools could initiate a complaint against parents or guardians, potentially leading to legal action.

Many of the bills still moving through state legislatures would create new programs at the school and school-district levels to identify chronically absent students and address the root causes of their absenteeism to prevent them from reaching chronic levels. Rhode Island lawmakers are considering several pilot programs. H.B. 7289 proposes a two-year outreach-and-tracking program in two public high schools that would provide intensive community support through outreach, care coordination, academic support, and crisis response. Students would take risk-and-resilience assessments to determine their level of need, and the highest-need students would receive a minimum of five weekly in-person contacts, available six days a week with on-call support on Sundays. Another bill, H.B. 7195, would establish a one-year pilot program at two public middle and high schools focused on understanding and addressing the impact of asthma on student attendance.

In Iowa, H.F. 2254 would require school districts to develop individual attendance improvement plans for every student who was chronically absent the prior year. Those plans must be discussed and signed by relevant school staff, school district staff, and parents/guardians.

Other states are exploring strategies to encourage student attendance without tackling underlying causes of absenteeism. In Ohio, H.B. 348 introduces a pilot program offering financial rewards and incentives to kindergarten through 9th-grade students for consistent attendance.

While some states and local school systems continue to use punitive measures to enforce attendance, there is growing consensus among researchers that exclusionary disciplinary actions are ineffective in promoting attendance. That is reflected in Arizona’s H.B. 2218, a measure to ban the suspension of students solely due to absenteeism. In Alabama, S.B. 165 would similarly prohibit suspensions and expulsions for truancy or tardiness.

Other bills this session would strengthen public reporting on absenteeism at the state level. Minnesota’s H.F. 3827 would require disaggregated attendance data by grade and student group. Some bills, including those in Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, and New Jersey, would establish working groups to study chronic absenteeism and recommend state-level strategies to reduce it.

While most bills focus on schools’ responses to absenteeism, legislation in some states would change the way other public agencies respond to absenteeism. Some would toughen truancy laws, while others would prioritize alternatives to legal action or diversionary programs and other substitutes for incarceration for students and parents who face attendance-related legal action.

Maryland’s S.B. 865, for example, establishes a Truancy Reduction and School Reengagement Program within juvenile courts, functioning as a “problem-solving court” to identify reasons for truancy and promote reengagement with education.

In contrast, Virginia’s S.B. 619 would widen the state’s definition of “abused or neglected child” to include “educational neglect” and require schools to notify the appropriate authorities when parents fail to comply with compulsory attendance laws, including cases where a child misses 10 percent or more of the academic year.

We will continue to monitor and update the tracker as new bills are introduced and progress through the legislative process.