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Report shows New Mexico schools have chronic absentee problem

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – When it comes to students showing up for school, New Mexico is getting a failing grade. “Attendance is important. In reality, I could have you here for eight hours and not get through all my questions,” said Rep. Brian Baca, a Republican representing Valencia County.

A new report shows the number of students chronically absent, meaning they missed more than 10% of school, more than doubled from 2019-2023, outpacing the national average. Data shows in 2023, 40% of New Mexico students were chronically absent which shakes out to 124,000 students. “I wasn’t surprised. because I have been hearing this from the people working in the schools. They’re very concerned,” said Ellen Bernstein, President of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation. Researchers said chronic absenteeism impacts a student’s learning and likelihood to graduate.

According to the report, district staff say illness, lack of interest, and parental decisions like vacations or letting students stay home are the top reasons why students skip school. The report also said the state’s chronic absenteeism is underreported noting some districts use electronic methods while others use the old-school paper method. It also noted that not all teachers take attendance every day.

The report suggests that the New Mexico Public Education Department should publish rules on taking attendance and give guidelines on how to intervene. It also said legislators should amend the Attendance for Success Act, passed in 2019, to allow districts to require extra instructional time for excessively absent students. However, Bernstein noted that fixing issues outside the classroom to improve child welfare could lead to a more lasting solution.

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