E3 Alliance's new task force emphasis: 'Missing school matters'

If school districts throughout Central Texas could increase attendance by 2 percentage points, local schools could get $34 million in state funding, according to Susan Dawson, president and executive director of the nonprofit organization E3 Alliance.

That's the message that the Austin-based organization hopes to spread with the introduction of its task force for Missing School Matters, a regionwide campaign to increase awareness of the importance of attendance.

"If you look at every single grade, Central Texas students have worse absenteeism than the rest of the state average," Dawson said.

Schools receive state funding based on attendance numbers, Dawson said. By 2014, the group hopes to increase attendance by 2 percentage points overall in 12 Central Texas districts including Austin ISD, Eanes ISD, Hays CISD, Hutto ISD, Lake Travis ISD, Leander ISD, Pflugerville ISD, Round Rock ISD and San Marcos CISD.

"We've proven that we can do that, and in the schools that were concentrating on partnering with us last fall [for our Get Schooled Attendance Challenge], the average attendance increase was 2 percentage points. So if we can get that across the region, it's going to have a huge impact," Dawson said.

In April, E3 launched a task force of 21 parents, educators, business leaders and community members to help lead the campaign. Volunteer task force co-chairwoman Amy Jones said the group's goal will be to mobilize this summer and inform the public.

"We're going to be addressing subgroups in a variety of different [ways, for example]—back-to-school nights, PTAs, church groups, nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Clubs and Communities in Schools or Big Brothers Big Sisters so that everyone in our community is talking about the fact that missing school matters, and there are small things that we can all do to make a difference," Jones said.

Fall attendance challenge

As part of MSM, E3 partnered with the Get Schooled Foundation to invite schools to participate in the nationwide Get Schooled Fall Attendance Challenge.

In a competition with 300 schools nationwide, Stony Point High School in RRISD was named the National Grand Champion by increasing attendance 5 percentage points compared with the prior year, according to E3 Communications Director Rick L'Amie.

MSM has a limited budget, L'Amie said, so the nonprofit is counting on people in the community to help drive the campaign's message home.

Task force co-chairwoman Lauren Paver said the alliance has a successful track record of doing research, making data-driven decisions and working with effective partners to improve education locally.

"I believe education is the ticket that can change somebody's situation, typically for the better," she said. "I'm confident that if I dedicate the precious time that I have toward an initiative, this is the right initiative to do this with."

Explaining absenteeism

As part of the MSM initiative, E3 also recently completed collecting data from nine schools in Pflugerville ISD and Hays CISD about reasons for absenteeism to determine whether the top excuse is illness, transportation issues, work schedule conflicts or simply students skipping class.

"So for the first time that we can tell in the country, we're doing a legitimate, statistically valid sample that's a valid research base to understand why kids are absent," Dawson said, noting that she hopes the organization will be able to release that data at its MSM Summit this summer.

"If a kid is sick, they're sick. But there's a huge difference between [if] they have fever and they're contagious and you want them to be at home versus they have asthma, and for a $15 inhaler we could have them in school 10 more days a year," she said.

The summit is scheduled to be held June 11 and will be free and open to the public. More information is available at www.e3alliance.org and www.missingschoolmatters.org.


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