By Terry Schrimscher
ST. CLAIR COUNTY SCHOOLS — Chronic absenteeism has reached crisis levels in public schools across the nation. According to the United States Department of Education, 16% of the student population misses 15 days, or more, of school each year. In Alabama, the numbers are better, approximately 11%, but that number totals to more than 7 million days missed in a given year.
St. Clair County schools are trying to change that statistic locally with a new incentive program that could reward students and teachers with a cash prize.
“The motivation was based upon the fact that in 2017-2018, we had over 1,500 students miss at least 18 days of school, which is 10% of the school year,” Superintendent Mike Howard said. “All students in St. Clair County Schools are eligible for the grand prize.”
Each student is awarded one entry in the drawing for each week of perfect attendance.
The total prize money for students is $1,000. The first-place winner in the drawing will receive $500. Second and third place winners will receive $300 and $200, respectively. The winners will be selected in the May board meeting. Teachers are also eligible to receive a $1,000 prize broken down the same way.
“Last year we spent over $1.1 million in substitute teacher pay,” said Howard, “so we are trying to reduce that number with this incentive program as well. We hope our system and students benefit from staff being present more often, because the more the teacher is present in class, the more the students learn.”
Nationally, chronic absenteeism can increase the high school dropout rate as much as seven times higher than students with good attendance. Statistically, high school students who do not complete their education are more likely to experience poverty, diminished health, or problems related to the criminal justice system, according to the Department of Education.
Howard hopes the St. Clair incentive program will help students develop important life skills along with improved attendance.
“Employers inform us they need workers that show up consistently and on time,” said Howard. “We are hopeful that this program will help develop good habits for our students because they are future employees. Our goal is to give students the tools to be successful.”
Funds for the incentive program came from an anonymous donor who gave a total of $10,000 to spread over five years. Howard said he is unaware if any other schools in the state have started similar programs.