Truancy bill continues to advance

March 27, 2024 | 12:16 am

Updated March 26, 2024 | 9:46 pm

Rep. Jared Bauman, R-Louisville, testifies Tuesday on truancy-related House Bill 611 during a meeting of the Senate Education Committee. | Photo from KY LRC

A bill to curb truancy and chronic absenteeism in Kentucky’s schools has nearly cleared the state legislature.

House Bill 611 advanced out of a Senate committee on Tuesday.

The primary sponsors of the bill — Rep. Jared Bauman, R-Louisville, and Rep. Timmy Truett, R-McKee — testified that truancy is a huge problem now, and they had to act through legislation. They are both House Education Committee members.

“As I learned in the education committee that we all sat on over the interim, we have a significant issue in our state with truancy and chronic absenteeism in our schools,” Bauman said. “The district that I represent is at 38%, and I’m sad to report that there are 40 districts in our state that have higher rates than that even, with 13 districts over 50%.”

House Bill 611 would allow for cases to be referred to county attorneys after a student has missed 15 unexcused days of school.

Bauman explained that schools are budgeting based on enrollment, even though they are funded based on attendance.

“We have to take action, more so for the students though than the funding. We have to ensure that kids are in school where they need to be during the school year, setting them up for success in life and that’s simply not happening today,” he said.

Truett, an elementary school principal, said the bill is a start to improve the situation in the commonwealth. It calls for an extension of diversion time, and this can be helpful in some cases. Students in diversion can only miss four additional unexcused days, he said.

“We’re extending that diversion time from 6 months to 12 months. So we’re watching this student for 12 months as opposed to just 6. Because what’s happening, they may be good for 6 months, get out of the diversion, go back to normal and what’s happening is they’re going right back in 6 months later,” Truett said.

Senate Democratic Floor Leader Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, asked about the possible fiscal impact of the measure.

Bauman answered that he did not confer with state officials about this, but he would do this if Neal thinks it’s a best practice.

Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, said she learned how truancy is a critical issue in Kentucky during the interim, and she asked about the efficacy of Family Accountability, Intervention and Response Teams (FAIR).

Truett said FAIR Teams currently meet with students of all ages and their parents. They try to resolve the issues and attempt to get to the root of the problem, he said.

“Obviously, if the FAIR Team was working in every district, we would not need this bill. Some districts, the FAIR Team works well. Some districts, they do not,” Truett said. “So, what this bill will do is, it does something that we don’t have currently. It will allow for consistency across the state.”

Truett said the bill calls for parents of students in K-5 grades to be held accountable, and for students in higher grades, FAIR Teams would work with them and their parents.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said the bill is a good one, but it’s important to remember that underlying problems need to be addressed, such as poverty, unemployment, and dysfunctional families.

“I think to be fair, and to do it right, we’ve got to acknowledge that those ills exist in the community as well and that school district as well, and that’s the real driver behind such high truancy rates,” he said.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, asked Bauman to speak on districts with high percentages of truant students, and called the situation, “a serious crisis.” West is also chair of the committee.

“These kids are not in school with their peers, learning, socializing, where they should be as children so they can become the next generation of Kentuckians that are going to be contributing to our society,” Bauman said. “They need to be in school. This helps us identify those children and get them into the classroom where they need to be.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate.

Information from the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.

March 27, 2024 | 12:16 am

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