Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee. My name is Shannon Hodge, and I am the Founding Executive Director of the DC Charter School Alliance, the local non-profit that advocates on behalf of public charter schools to ensure that every student can choose high-quality public schools that prepare them for lifelong success.
On behalf of the DC charter school community, I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak with you about the proposal before you today to set daily attendance at 60% of full instructional day, moving away from the current 80/20 rule.
80/20 Rule and Its Implications
First, I want to be clear that our priority is ensuring students are in class as much as possible and receiving the high-quality education they deserve. But we must seriously consider what is keeping students from attending school and work together to address the root causes of truancy. For many students and their families, it’s not as simple as not wanting to attend. Often, circumstances outside of school and outside their control prevent students from being at school.
As you know, current rules require that students attend school for at least 80 percent of the day to be counted as present. While this rule was established with noble intentions—to increase school attendance and reduce truancy—in practice, it has served in many ways as a powerful disincentive for students to show up to school. Let me put this in simple terms. If a student knows that they won’t make it to school by 10am, they suddenly have a choice to make: skip the rest of the school day, or show up for the rest of their classes knowing their attendance won’t count.
The status quo isn’t working for students, families, and schools alike. In addition to students missing out on valuable instruction time, families get referred to the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) once they reach a certain number of unexcused absences. The overwhelming volume of complaints CFSA receives distracts from students who are genuinely at risk and in need of urgent services. Additionally, the process of engaging with CFSA on truancy issues is a huge administrative burden on schools—and yet, we haven’t seen improved school attendance even when CFSA does intervene.
The 80/20 Rule Isn’t Working
No doubt, truancy rates are an issue in District schools that school leaders are working hard to address. The Everyday Counts Task Force Policy Committee, a partnership of DC agencies and other stakeholders to coordinate strategies to increase student attendance and reduce truancy, recently showed that the District has one of the most aggressive attendance rules in the country. A survey of large urban districts and surrounding jurisdictions shows a range of approaches, from students being considered “present” for the day if they attend at least one class period to requiring attendance for at least 50% of the instructional day to be considered “present.”
The data clearly show the 80/20 rule isn’t working as intended. In fact, truancy rates have increased in recent years, going back to the 2017–2018 school year, even before the pandemic began. And if we’ve learned anything during the pandemic, it’s that having students inside the building—even just for a small part of the day—is critically important to assess and meet their academic, socioemotional, and physical needs. Charter school leaders appreciate Councilmember Trayon White’s leadership in bringing this issue forward.
To be frank, we aren’t completely certain that the 60/40 solution being proposed here today is the correct solution. Charter school leaders hold a range of views on what should be done, including returning to a simpler solution that credits students for being inside the building. That would enable our schools to work with—rather than punish—their students and families to increase attendance.
What we’re in agreement on, however, is that we must shift away from the 80/20 rule in favor of more effective solutions. We hope that this Committee will engage with both the State Board of Education (SBOE) and charter schools on this issue further—especially because the current makeup of the Everyday Counts Task Force does not include charter school leaders. And charter school leaders, our DCPS colleagues, and the SBOE, which is statutorily responsible for approving state rules for enforcing school attendance requirements, should be deeply involved in the process.
Regardless of the solution the Council lands on, we urge you to be mindful that any changes should be timed to ensure that schools have sufficient notice to update data systems, procedures, handbooks, and communication before the beginning of the school year. Two different rules in the same school year will create administrative burdens and unintended consequences.
As I’ve said before this Council many times before, DC’s public charter schools are nimble, responsive, and innovative. Each charter school has a different model to create unique and responsive learning environments for their students so each one can choose a high-quality public school and receive a great public education that prepares them for lifelong success.
We know that we all share the same goal—to build a truly equitable system that provides an education for all our students. We at the DC Charter School Alliance are ready to work alongside the Council and the City to ensure we are providing the education our students deserve.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.