In the 2006-07 school year,
9.3 percent of pupils in
kindergarten through grade
12 were habitually truant.
DPI’s role in districts’
efforts is limited.
School districts have
implemented varied truancy
reduction efforts within the
Truancy reduction efforts
have yielded mixed
results in Milwaukee
DPI could facilitate broader
dissemination of district
assessments of truancy
Districts’ truancy rates
ranged from 0 to
58.2 percent, and most
habitual truants are from the
20 largest districts.
Habitual truancy rates
ranged from 4.5 percent
for fourth graders to
17.2 percent for
DPI awarded $1.9 million
in federal truancy reduction
grants for the four-year
period ending with the
2007-08 school year.
District truancy reduction
efforts include community
programming, and sanctions.
In the 2006-07 school year,
the habitual truancy rate in
Milwaukee Public Schools
was 46.3 percent.
Wisconsin’s compulsory attendance law, s. 118.15, Wis. Stats., requires
children to remain in school until they graduate or until the end of the
school term, quarter, or semester during which they turn 18 years of age.
Unexcused absence from school is often associated with poor academic
performance and is sometimes associated with delinquency, criminal
behavior, and dropping out of school. The Legislature has enacted
planning and procedural requirements to clarify the role of school
districts in ensuring pupils attend school and do not become truant.
Within these requirements, districts exercise autonomy in designing
programs consistent with local priorities and attendance goals.
Under s. 13.94(8), Wis. Stats., the Legislative Audit Bureau is required
to conduct reviews to identify local government practices that can save
costs or provide for more effective service delivery. Best practices reports
seek to build upon successful local efforts by identifying and publicizing
efficient approaches. This report, which focuses on efforts by selected
Wisconsin public school districts to reduce truancy, analyzes:
habitual truancy rates through the 2006-07 school year, the latest year
for which data were available for the 425 public school districts at the
time of our fieldwork;
school district compliance with selected statutory requirements
related to attendance and truancy policies and procedures;
the use and effectiveness of statutorily allowed municipal truancy
discretionary efforts undertaken by school districts to prevent and
The statewide habitual truancy
rate, defined as the percentage
of enrolled pupils with five or
more unexcused absences in a
semester, has changed modestly
each school year since 1998-99.
In that year, 8.7 percent of public
school pupils were classified as
The rate increased to 10.0 percent
in the 2001-02 school year. In
the 2006-07 school year, it was
9.3 percent, or 77,700 pupils in
kindergarten through grade 12.
Most were enrolled in high school.
The habitual truancy rate varied
among districts in the 2006-07
school year, ranging from 0 in 47
districts to a high of 58.2 percent in
one district. The 20 largest school
districts account for nearly threequarters
of habitual truants, but we
note that districts with high rates of
truancy vary in size and location.
The Department of Public Instruction
(DPI) is statutorily responsible
for collecting attendance data and
for reporting certain data to federal
agencies. DPI is not, however,
required to review or approve
school districts’ attendance policies,
truancy plans, or truancy reduction
Over the past four school years,
DPI has administered federal funds
totaling $1.9 million for districts
with high pupil poverty rates,
higher habitual truancy rates, and
inadequate yearly progress as
measured by the federal No Child
Left Behind Act.
Eight districts have received
federal truancy reduction funds:
Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS),
Menominee Indian School District,
the Green Bay Area Public School
District, the School District of Beloit,
the School District of Janesville,
Kenosha Unified School District
Number 1, Madison Metropolitan
School District, and the Racine
Unified School District.
These districts have formed the
Peer Consultation Network for
Increasing School Attendance,
which meets every six to seven
months to share best practices for
reducing truancy and learn about
resources available from other state
agencies. DPI provides staff support
to the Peer Consultation Network.
The attendance and truancy data
DPI collects from the districts
are published on the Wisconsin
Information Network for Successful
Schools (WINSS), a Web site implemented
by DPI to meet federal
reporting requirements and allow
districts to assess their progress
using various performance
Because errors identified after
publication are not corrected, it is
difficult to assess the effectiveness
of truancy reduction efforts in the
affected districts. However, errors in
the published data for two districts
are not likely to have materially
affected the statewide habitual
truancy rate in 2006-07.
School District Efforts
Districts have generally complied
with statutory requirements by
developing attendance policies,
monitoring attendance, and
notifying families of unexcused
absences. They have also adopted
truancy plans, and most have
completed timely reviews of their
own plans and reviewed those of
other districts within their counties.
These periodic reviews have
helped to identify policy questions,
such as how a district’s tardiness
policy affects the number of pupils
classified as truant.
Districts have implemented a
variety of truancy reduction efforts.
For example, social workers at
some elementary schools contact
pupils and their families to promote
good attendance and provide
resources to prevent tardiness. At
the high school level, districts have
developed alternative programming
such as night schools and schools
within schools to meet the needs of
students who have not performed
well in traditional classrooms.
Local ordinances enable a more
immediate response to truancy and
habitual truancy than is possible
under state law, where enforcement
involves referral to the District
Attorney. However, available data
indicate their effectiveness has been
mixed. For example, in Kenosha
Unified School District Number 1,
79.0 percent of pupils who received
truancy citations did not comply
with the order to attend school.
In contrast, 55.0 percent of Racine
Unified School District pupils
who received citations had fewer
instances of truancy after being cited.
Milwaukee Public Schools
The habitual truancy rate in MPS
was 46.3 percent in the 2006-07
school year. Community collaboration—
including working closely
with police, the District Attorney’s
office, and community organizations
that offer mentoring and
tutoring services—has been evident
in the district’s truancy reduction
efforts, but results have been mixed.
For example, since 1993, MPS has
collaborated with the Milwaukee
Police Department and a local
organization to operate the
Truancy Abatement and Burglary
Suppression (TABS) Program.
In the 2006-07 school year,
6,453 juveniles were stopped by
TABS officers, 2,954 were counseled
by TABS staff, and 294 received
additional services, such as home
visits and social service referrals.
Among those who received
additional services, 78 improved
their attendance by an average
of ten percentage points.
The effectiveness of truancy
citations in MPS is also mixed.
TABS staff noted that for a separate
sample of pupils cited during the
2006-07 school year, 33.2 percent
increased their attendance,
61.1 percent decreased their
attendance, and the balance
maintained the same attendance.
The effectiveness of the district’s
school-level efforts is also unclear.
Habitual truancy rates at three of
the six MPS schools that received
federal truancy reduction grants in
the 2006-07 school year increased
from the previous year.
Many truancy reduction efforts
undertaken by school districts are
consistent with best practices
identified through national research,
including collaboration among
community service providers,
family involvement, and a comprehensive
approach to the pupil’s
social and academic needs. Districts’
efforts to evaluate their programs,
which is also a best practice, vary.
Districts that have not already done
so would likely benefit from evaluations
of their truancy reduction
efforts at both the pupil and the
program level. Outcome and other
evaluation data would be of value
to other districts seeking effective
programming options in a period
of constrained fiscal resources.
While DPI has supported the sharing
of programming results within
the Peer Consultation Network,
it could identify additional
cost-effective means to facilitate
information sharing, such as Web
sites and electronic bulletin boards.
It is a best practice for school districts to:
regularly review compliance
with statutory requirements
for attendance monitoring and
monitor habitual truancy at
each grade level and develop
strategies to minimize truancy
in the early grades
identify alternative programming
to help truant high school
pupils obtain high school
involve parents and guardians
in truancy-related matters
identify and collaborate with
community service providers
to meet the needs of habitually
consider the full range
of available sanctions for
(p. 37); and
evaluate and modify, as
necessary, their truancy
reduction efforts on a regular
It is a best practice for DPI to:
research and resolve significant
attendance and truancy data
discrepancies before they are
published on the WINSS
(p. 21); and
facilitate cost-effective information
sharing among the districts
concerning truancy reduction