Baltimore Gets Creative to Entice Chronically Absent Students to Return

Baltimore City Public Schools have launched a phone banking program in an attempt to connect with and entice chronically absent students to return the the classroom.

The Super Outreach Sunday phone bank program was recently launched by Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) in a push by the school system to connect with students who have already had 10 or more unexcused absences or have yet to attend school since the start of the 2022-23 school year four weeks ago. According to The Baltimore Sunthe program is attempting to contact more than 1300 students or their families who meet those criteria.

The phonebook program not only is hoping to get kids back into school, it’s also looking to connect students and their families with a variety of supportive resources to ultimately encourage their long-term attendance. Such resources include public bus tickets and food or childcare vouchers for families experiencing homelessness.

The first phone banking event was held on Sunday, September 25, and it was the first of its kind for Baltimore City, though the City has long-implemented. number of other methods to reach chronically absent students:

Although Sunday’s phone bank is a first for the district, Baltimore City Public Schools use multiple methods to reach absent students daily. In the run-up to the school year, individual schools also hired “summer liaisons” to mail letters, call parents and visit students at their homes to learn what obstacles could prevent children from coming to school and to help resolve them.

Here are some other City programs include tackling absenteeism:

If a student is absent for five or more days, they’ll start receiving daily robocalls. If the absence continues, the student’s school will file a referral with the district, whose office will then try to meet with a family to determine why a student has unexcused absences and how the school system can help.

According to Tanya Crawford-Williams, the BCPS’ coordinator of the Office of Student Conduct and Attendance, the COVID-19 pandemic and general family concerns around in-person learning health and safety remain a constant factor for absentees. Additionally, she told The BaltimoreSun:

There are students “who have moved, lost housing; parents have lost their jobs, (they) don’t have food,” and other families “have suffered from trauma, and they’re having a hard time getting back connected to school.”

Absenteeism worries City officials ahead of yearly Head Count

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country, our public schools had to quickly adjust to new and creative ways of serving Maryland’s kids. As schools moved to virtual learning, the combined burdens of working from home, managing virtual learning, and caring for family resulted in some Maryland families turning to other options for schooling during the pandemic for a variety of reasons.

The mix of hybrid in-person/virtual schooling, temporary independent homeschooling, and general inconsistency in attendance during the pandemic has resulted in lower enrollment than predicted for the last two cycles.

Enrollment plays a crucial role in school funding formulas in Maryland, and is ultimately one factor in determining how much funding local school districts will get in the state’s budget. As such, even temporarily reduced enrollments resulting in decreased State funding for Local Education Agencies (LEAs). Notably, while enrollment may decrease, fixed costs such as utilities and personnel costs do not have the same corresponding reduction, leaving LEAs to carry those fixed costs.

As a result, policy leaders, under the urging of MACo, have allowed for temporary “fixes” for low 2020 and 2021 enrollment counts and subsequent school funding challenges resulting from them.

The annual enrollment — or “head count” — is happening later this week, on September 30. There are currently approximately 78,000 students enrolled in Baltimore City schools. Given the upcoming count and the critical role it plays in school funding, the City’s Super Sunday Outreach program and other attendance initiatives could ultimately be crucial to school funding and student success.

A second phone bank is in the works for BCPS’ winter break, a time The Baltimore Sun described as when “students who have missed the first semester of school often return.”

Learn more about the annual enrollment count and solutions for prior years’ dips.

Read the full Baltimore Sun article.