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Today is the first day of school for many kids in central Arkansas. Why start on a Tuesday is anybody's guess, but we suppose it beats starting on a Friday.

Tuesday, Friday, Monday morning at 8 . . . . It doesn't matter. The brass in Little Rock's school district has bigger problems.

Last year, if you'll remember, the paper got its hands on some statistics that outraged the community. Many kids were considered chronically absent from school--that is, they missed 10 percent or more of the school year.

What is "many kids"? Not just 15 percent, or 20 percent, or 40 percent were missing classes, but at some schools the number approached and exceeded 50 percent. How in the world can the schools get better if the kids don't attend classes?

So the state's largest school district tried something called the Feet to the Seat Campaign. It was supposed to go beyond banners and hoopla and the occasional school-wide pep rally to, according to the district, "include professional development teams that will work with schools on how to use the data to identify the needs and plan accordingly."

Great. So how did all this team-forming and professional development work out?

Over the weekend, our Cynthia Howell reported on the past year's absentee rate. If archives and our suspicious math are correct, things aren't much better. At some schools, things aren't any better.

At J.A. Fair, the absentee rate fell from 52 percent in 2017-18 to 48 percent last year.

But the rate increased at McClellan, from 48 to 50 percent.

It was even worse at Hall High, going from 49 to 53 percent.

Not surprisingly, all three of those high schools were given F grades by the state, which is a big reason why the Little Rock district is under state control even now.

And those are just the high schools. At a couple of the elementary and middle schools, the chronic absentee rate approached, and sometimes exceeded, 40 percent.

So, what are we going to do, Little Rock?

The superintendent plans to form an advisory committee, among other things. (This calls for immediate discussion!) He was also quoted in the paper championing other programs. Michael Poore is an optimistic and energetic man, constantly coming up with ideas. But with 1 in 4 of Little Rock's students not showing up for class, other people need to get involved. Or more involved.

The state has taken over the district, so the state is responsible. Which means the governor is responsible. And the new(ish) mayor of Little Rock has to realize that his city is never going to get better until its schools get better. And the schools aren't going to get better if half the kids in some grades are on the streets.

There have been a lot of word-filled pages published in this section over the years about Little Rock's problems. But none of those problems can be solved if the schools continue to flail and fail. Not violence, not poverty, not drugs, not crime, not anything. It all starts with the schools.

How is this not a crisis? Where are the press conferences among our elected betters outlining their plans on how to help the superintendent? Where are the fast-response teams? Where are the congressmen and senators? Little Rock doesn't have an earthquake or hurricane problem. Our crisis exists in our schools. What are we afraid of? It can't be failure. We're already familiar with that.

New campaigns and a few gung-ho types at district headquarters haven't done the trick. Yet. Until they do, how many generations are We the People prepared to sacrifice to the streets?

It's going to take bold, determined and courageous action on the part of the city and state to make hope a reality for Little Rock's kids, parents and neighborhoods. That's the nature of education, and life. Today's the first day of school. Can we begin?

Will we begin?

Editorial on 08/13/2019

Print Headline: Chronic absenteeism


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