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K-12 absenteeism rates decline, but still much higher than before pandemic

children looking outside
Kelly Sikkema
School districts say they can't hire enough school bus drivers in the current labor market and that's preventing some children from having access to transportation to school - exacerbating an absenteeism problem that worsened after the pandemic.

Statewide K-12 student absenteeism rates declined last school year, according to the Michigan Department of Education, but the rates are still much higher than before the pandemic.

Absenteeism declined nearly 2% in the 2022-23 school year, compared to the school year before, and chronic absenteeism, defined as missing 10% or more school days, declined more dramatically — from 38.5% to 30.8%.

But the numbers remain significantly higher than before the pandemic, especially for chronic absenteeism, which was 19.7% in the 2018-2019 school year.

Robert McCann is head of the K12 Alliance of Michigan. The group represents southeast Michigan school superintendents.

He said there's a very strong link between regular attendance and grades. But he said regular attendance at school is a safety issue as well. And being in school every day provides students with access to meals and emotional and social support they may not have at home.

"It really is an all hands on deck type scenario," he said. "And we're going to keep working on this because, yeah, these numbers are trending down, but they're still much, much higher than we know we want them to be."

McCann said being able to hire and retain school bus drivers has become a huge problem for school districts, due to the post-pandemic labor shortage. He said people can easily find part-time jobs that pay more than driving a school bus.

"So it becomes this cyclical game of we keep increasing the wages, but they keep finding higher wages than what we have. It's a crisis right now."

McCann said the state could help by providing more funding specifically targeting transportation costs.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.