Truancy on the rise across Wisconsin; task force looks for cause

Since the pandemic, more and more students just are not coming to school. When someone misses 10 percent of the school year, that is defined as chronic absenteeism.
Milwaukee school bus students MPS
Posted at 9:37 AM, Oct 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-17 10:37:20-04

MILWAUKEE — A state task force stops in Milwaukee to talk about truancy in schools. Since the pandemic, state representatives say they are hearing similar reasons why students are not showing up to school. Milwaukee Public Schools, the largest district in the state, testifies about its numbers.

Since the pandemic, more and more students just are not coming to school. When someone misses 10 percent of the school year, that is defined as chronic absenteeism. Community members testified to the Speaker’s Task Force on Truancy about what they think needs to be done to change that.

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"There needs to be social workers out every day,” said Larry Hoffman, a Milwaukee community member.

"Transportation is a big issue,” said Latoya Woods, who works at a Milwaukee charter school.

The manager of school social work and community service at Milwaukee Public Schools, Nicole Cain, says the number of chronic absenteeism nationally is on the rise.

"Post-pandemic, two out of three students have high absenteeism,” said Cain.

The chair of the Speaker’s Task Force on Truancy, State Representative Amy Binsfeld (R) and vice chair, State Represenative Dora Drake (D) speaks with TMJ4 reporter Rebecca Klopf.

Before the pandemic, nationally, one in six children was chronically absent or about 16 percent of the population. Today, that number is 28 percent. Milwaukee Public School says its chronic absenteeism rate is 15.7 percent.

MPS says most absences come from three major issues in the community, the first is mental health. It is something the chair of the State Representative Amy Binsfeld, a Republican from Sheboygan who chairs the Speaker's Task Force on Truancy, says she continues to hear as she tours the state.

“We do, again, see mental health has played a role in this; there are a lot of kids based on high anxiety levels who do not want to return to the classroom,” said Binsfeld.

A school bus parked in front of Frances Brock Starms Early Childhood Center.

Milwaukee Public Schools says the other two issues that most often lead to absenteeism are homelessness and violence in the community. Leaders say with violence, especially shootings on the rise, what happens in the community makes a difference in their attendance rates.

"When there is violence happening over the weekends, sending a student to school on Monday sometimes, if something has happened in your immediate community, is very challenging,” said Cain.

MPS says because of those issues, it no longer focuses on punishing parents whose students do not show up. They are currently not issuing truancy citations. But after eight absences, the district starts home visits to meet with parents or guardians and if every effort fails, action is taken.

"We have continuous efforts to connect with students,” said Cain. "For cases that we are trying our best and there is no real reason that we can identify for students not to be attending and parents are contributing to the truancy, then we refer to the district's attorney's office."

The state will continue to gather feedback about truancy in Wisconsin schools. If you want to share anything about truancy in your community you can email Represenative Amy Binsfeld ( or the vice chair of the Speaker’s Task Force on Truancy, Representative Dora Drake (