Braun bill aimed at getting chronically absent students to re-engage with classes, resume path to graduation

OLYMPIA… Chronic absenteeism is among the major obstacles preventing Washington children from recovering from pandemic-related learning loss. Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, has introduced legislation to help school administrators, teachers and parents get students to show up to school and take part in class.

Senate Bill 5850 would provide support for students who are at risk for not graduating high school due to chronic absenteeism. Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island and chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, is co-sponsoring Braun’s bill. It’s based on a pilot program underway in the state’s Educational Service District 112, which serves southwest Washington.

“Nothing good happens when kids either don’t show up at all or do show up but wander the school halls without attending class,” said Braun. “The students who are already struggling to work at grade level risk falling so far behind that they may not graduate, which jeopardizes their future earning potential and quality of life. School administrators are frustrated because they feel ill-equipped to enforce attendance policies. And no matter how many billions of dollars go into K-12, some of that investment is effectively lost when desks sit empty day after day.

“Many students who chronically skip school or become ‘hall walkers’ are dealing with family issues, substance-abuse disorder, or mental-health issues. Others just don’t care to show up or they wander around as if school attendance policies mean nothing. This can’t continue,” Braun added. “Fortunately, it’s not a partisan issue, as no one opposes the idea of getting students back on track. This legislation is about improving the safety net in ways that will help school-age children to become students again – to reengage and resume their path to a high-school diploma.”

SB 5850, filed Dec. 15, will receive a formal referral to Sen. Wellman’s committee when the 2024 legislative session convenes Jan. 8. People who want to testify in support of this bill once it is scheduled for a committee hearing may do so in person or remotely.


Under Washington’s current compulsory attendance law, parents of students who are between 8 and 18 years of age must enroll them in a public school or private school, or they must provide the child with home-based instruction. If a child does not attend, the school district must designate and identify to the local juvenile court and to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) someone to coordinate school district efforts to address excessive absenteeism and truancy,

Under state law and OSPI rules, a student may be eligible to enroll in a statewide dropout-reengagement program if the student meets certain criteria including:

  • Has not met the high-school graduation requirements,
  • Is significantly behind in credits,
  • Has been recommended by a case manager, and
  • Is not currently enrolled in any high-school classes that receive state basic-education funding.

Summary of SB 5850:

  • Defines “students who are chronically absent” as students who miss 10% or more school days for any reason including excused and unexcused absences and suspensions.
  • Requires Washington’s nine educational service districts (ESDs) to develop and maintain the capacity to offer training and coaching for educators and other school district staff, including those designated under current state law, on the development of robust early-warning systems to identify and locate students who are chronically absent and connect them with necessary supports, subject to appropriations.
  • Directs OSPI to establish a grant program for community-based organizations and tribes to support students who are chronically absent, subject to appropriations.
  • Requires OSPI to allocate funding, subject to appropriations, to ESDs, school districts, and public schools to help eliminate barriers to high school completion for students who are:
    1. 16 to 21 years of age,
    2. are severely deficient in academic credits,
    3. unable to graduate high school with their peer group, and
    4. enrolled in a statewide dropout-reengagement program.
  • Specifies that OSPI must allocate funding on a per-student basis based on enrollment in a statewide reengagement program and that the funding be differentiated and include a base amount of funding for small and/or rural school districts.
  • Continues the grant program and per-student funding through December 31, 2026.


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