Editorial: Don’t link absenteeism to school funding

No one disputes Oregon schools have an attendance problem. In fact, Oregon schools have some of the highest absenteeism rates in the nation.

There’s less agreement about how to solve the problem.

Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, thinks she has a way. She’s introduced House Bill 2657, which would tie state school dollars to school district attendance rates. School districts with high absenteeism rates would see their state dollars dwindle over time.

Not surprisingly, Komp already has had considerable pushback about the bill, some of it coming from fellow Democrats on the House Education Committee. School districts, the Oregon Education Association and the Oregon School Boards Association also have made clear their dislike for the measure.

Some of the problems districts face are beyond their control. In some communities and cultures, school attendance takes a backseat to family obligations. That’s not good from a student-learning standpoint, but school officials face nearly insurmountable hurdles when trying to overcome a deeply held belief that family comes first.

Poverty is also a big contributor to poor attendance, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. Families that lack stable housing, good health care, adequate diet, reliable transportation and the like have more trouble getting kids to school on time every day.

Also, children with chronic health problems, living in poverty or not, are more likely to miss school than kids in robust health.

That’s not to suggest that all attendance problems are beyond school districts’ control. As administrators in the La Pine schools of Bend-La Pine Schools have demonstrated, a concentrated effort on improving attendance pays off.

In La Pine, teachers, administrators and volunteers have worked together to honor students with good attendance and work with those who are chronically absent to improve the situation. It’s a labor-intensive solution, but it is bearing measurable results.

Cutting dollars won’t improve the situation, neither in Bend nor elsewhere in Oregon. Rather, it could make changing the figures more, not less, difficult to achieve. That’s hardly productive.

Komp’s bill should die before it leaves the education committee.

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