Friends,

Last week, Governor Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1530 into law. This is an important bill and I appreciate the legislature for their action on this issue. With this new law, schools will now have a standardized definition for attendance and absenteeism for calculations under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) formula.

Under the law, a student will be considered absent if he or she is not present at school for a minimum of 63 percent of the instructional day. Currently, school attendance policies vary from district to district, with some having high expectations of attendance and others which have little or no expectations.

Besides raising expectations, and therefore achievement levels of students, this is also important because the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) calculation is the basis of the MAEP formula and the key determinant of the base student cost. Previously, it was non-standardized and therefore, inequitable and unauditable. This will help bring additional accountability to the process of funding our public schools.

After receiving complaints from parents and teachers regarding school attendance and instruction, our Auditors recently performed an unannounced headcount of students at districts throughout the state. They were there to test the accuracy of the attendance data reported to the State, check attendance policies related to when a student is counted present/absent during the day, check the level of absenteeism, and observe typical activities, such as whether instruction is taking place.

Findings from our Auditors included:

Just 17 of 47 districts were able to account for all of their enrolled students
Approximately 75 percent of the student body was present at the time of the headcount
Instruction or instruction related activities were taking place at 35 of the 47 selected high schools
Only 8 high schools audited had policies requiring students to be in attendance 50 percent or more of the day
Most of the other 39 schools count a student present as long as they show up for any part of the day
You can view a full summary of their findings here.

Again, I applaud the legislature for their action on this legislation and in helping to raise expectations for our school children.

Stacey E. Pickering
State Auditor

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