rogram in Tippecanoe County, told a legislative committee Friday that the program focuses on keeping kids in school and out of the juvenile justice system. Photo by Megan Banta, TheStatehouseFile.com
By Megan Banta
An education expert told lawmakers Friday during a legislative hearing dedicated to studying school absenteeism that at least 55,000 Hoosier students are chronically absent every year.
Terry Spradlin, the director for education policy at Indiana University's Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, said while overall attendance in Indiana is around 95 percent, that number overshadows the problem of chronic absences.
Spradlin said data from a study conducted by the center in 2011 showed that chronic absences affect testing results.
That's just one of the many reasons that truancy is a major concern for school districts, some of which have begun partnering with courts to provide court-supervised education programs, alternative programs or diversion programs for habitually truant students.
Superintendents and others involved in those programs in five different school districts told the Commission on Education about their partnerships and how they have successfully addressed the issue of student absenteeism.
Rebecca Humphrey, who serves as the executive director of the Juvenile Alternatives Program in Tippecanoe County, said the program focuses on keeping kids in school and out of the juvenile justice system.
"Kids who are not in school engage in behaviors that are risky," Humphrey said. "They do things that can get them into trouble."
And she said the program, which has dealt with 866 cases since 2009, has been "very successful" - 88 percent of the youth that go through the six-month program are not referred back to truancy mediation.
She said through partnerships with organizations in the community, her program is able to offer incentives, such as gas cards, for families to "get back on track very quickly."
Kathy Steele, superintendent of Crawfordsville Community Schools, said in order to bring the judge and prosecutor on board for a similar program in Montgomery County, all the school corporations had to work together to "make truancy the same across the board for the county."
That work, she said, was necessary to enable a partnership that has helped to "keep our kids in school."
"It takes a community effort," Steele said. "It takes people working together."
Scott Hanback, superintendent of the Tippecanoe School Corporation, said schools need flexibility in determining what an excused or unexcused absence is in order to successfully run a community program addressing truancy.
Schools have that flexibility, according to John Barnes, a lobbyist for the Indiana Department of Education.
Barnes said the department gives recommendations for how to define excused and unexcused absences but does not require schools to follow any exact policy.
John O'Neal, lobbyist for the Indiana State Teachers Association, said schools would like it to stay that way and that his organization probably wouldn't support legislation defining habitual truancy or making a statewide distinction between excused and unexcused absences.
Megan Banta is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.