A big challenge for FL public schools: Thousands of kids are chronically absent

high school classroom, school, education
Empty desks at school. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Most families and taxpayers assume that Florida’s kids go to class for the typical 180 days of the school year, with a few days off because of sickness or family events.

In fact, a troubling number of Florida students don’t go to school every day, and they’re considered chronically absent — a problem that can lead to failing grades and dropping out.

The Florida Department of Education closely tracks the number of kids who miss school for 21 days or more. Across Florida, 360,722 students missed 21 days or more for 2017-18, the most recent data available.

That means 11.3 percent of students enrolled in 2017-18 were considered chronically absent.

A half dozen school districts posted double that average.

Liberty County school district in the Panhandle had the highest absenteeism rate in the state, with 28.9 percent of students absent for 21 days or more of school in 2017-18.

The other high-absentee districts, generally in North Florida, are Taylor, Putnam, Calhoun, Jefferson and Bradford. Those districts had double the state average for kids missing school for 21 days or more.

Florida isn’t alone when it comes to extreme absenteeism.

“Across the country, more than 8 million students are missing so many days of school that they are academically at risk,” according to Attendance Works, a San Francisco-based national, nonprofit that works to reduce high absenteeism.

“Chronic absence — missing 10 percent or more of school days due to absence for any reason—excused, unexcused absences and suspensions, can translate into third-graders unable to master reading, sixth-graders failing subjects and ninth-graders dropping out of high school,” according to the group’s website.

The nonprofit also says that, “Children living in poverty are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent—and face the most harm because their community lacks the resources to make up for the lost learning in school. Students from communities of color as well as those with disabilities are disproportionately affected.”

The Florida education department also shows about 20 school districts  that are below the state average for chronic absenteeism. Those include districts with the lowest rates of chronic absenteeism — about 6 to 7 percent: Collier, Sarasota, St. Johns, Brevard and Palm Beach.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.


  1. Crime data for 2017 was released on May 22 2018. This year it’s already the 11th of June and no data from FDLE. What’s up? Maybe they’re playing with the figures so Leon won’t look so bad.


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