Report: Mississippi surge in absenteeism puts state at risk – more dropouts and incarcerations and ‘big bill’ for state taxpayers

Published 12:58 pm Monday, July 8, 2024

Mississippi’s K-12 chronic absenteeism rate has surged significantly, surpassing neighboring states, according to a report released today by State Auditor Shad White. The report highlights a growing concern that poses a significant cost to taxpayers.

“Mississippi’s K-12 absenteeism problem is a massive cost for taxpayers, as our report lays out,” said Auditor White. “Part of my job is telling taxpayers what is driving the biggest costs in government, and in coming years, our absenteeism rate is statistically likely to lead to more drop-outs, more incarcerations, more dependence on social services, and a big bill for Mississippi taxpayers.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, chronic absenteeism in K-12 schools has escalated nationwide, with Mississippi being notably affected. In 2019, the state had a chronic absenteeism rate of 14%, which was comparable to its border states. However, by 2023, this rate had soared to 24.7%, marking a 76.4% increase and placing Mississippi ahead of its neighboring states.

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Research indicates that students who are chronically absent have a higher likelihood of dropping out of school, which can lead to increased rates of arrest and reliance on social services later in life. Analysts estimate that the cohort of students who were chronically absent before dropping out in the 2023 academic year alone could cost the Mississippi economy $550 million over time.

The report provides several recommendations for legislative action to combat this issue. These include:

  • Modifying Mississippi’s School Accountability Ratings to factor in attendance
  • Enacting laws that link driver’s license privileges to school attendance
  • Reorganizing and increasing the number of school attendance officers

“Kids need to be in school,” emphasized White. “We pump a ton of taxpayer money into our K-12 school system, but it does no good if the students’ tails are not in the seats. Now is the time to address this before the problem gets worse.”

The full report is available on the Auditor’s website under the “Reports” tab by searching for “absenteeism.”