AFT Resolution


WHEREAS, chronic absenteeism is a national problem that undermines our efforts to improve education and life outcomes among our students and significantly predicts children’s long-term ability to thrive; and

WHEREAS, chronic absenteeism is a challenge as early as preschool, and too many students at all grade levels miss 10 percent or more of scheduled instructional days due to chronic absenteeism, thereby placing them at academic risk; and

WHEREAS, the common metric of average daily attendance can mask chronic absenteeism, which is not simply a matter of truancy; it is defined as including unexcused absences, suspensions and excused absences, which are often related to illness, poverty and other social determinants of health, as well as a lack of access to needed physical health and mental health supports, resulting in further loss of valuable instructional time; and

WHEREAS, students only benefit from classroom instruction if they are in class, and chronic absenteeism as early as preschool, kindergarten and first grade is a proven early warning sign that a student will fall behind in reading and other key areas by third grade; and

WHEREAS, by secondary school, chronic absenteeism predicts course failure and dropping out of school, and research connects chronic absenteeism to the school-to-prison pipeline; and

WHEREAS, diverse root causes lead to chronic absenteeism, including the compounded effects of community and family impoverishment, chronic illness, school climate, zero-tolerance policies, test­and-punish approaches, misconceptions about the importance of attendance and a lack of adequate investment in public services, such as those that improve mobility and healthcare access; and

WHEREAS, low-income students, students of color and students with disabilities have significantly higher rates of absenteeism in every state; and

WHEREAS, President Obama has issued a call to action to improve the lives of all young people through his Every Student, Every Day initiative to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism, recognizing that frequent school absences can be devastating to a child’s future success as well as to the future security and prosperity of the nation; and

WHEREAS, all school personnel play a critical role in reducing chronic absenteeism, as educators are often the first to identify problematic patterns of absence, support personnel are often best poised to identify the root causes, and school health professionals are often critical to the design and implementation of responsive interventions; and

WHEREAS, the American Federation of Teachers recognizes the need for cross-sector efforts to address this national problem by ensuring that schools, families and communities have the tools, resources and wraparound support to make sure students are in school and ready to learn; and

WHEREAS, health interventions on school sites that seek to address asthma, nutrition, safe school climates, dental health, vision, mental health and the social determinants of these conditions have been shown to decrease the incidence of absences:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will continue to support national efforts to eliminate chronic absenteeism, including supporting the efforts of the U.S. Department of Education on national, state and local levels, as well as Attendance Works, the Coalition for Community Schools, the Healthy Schools Campaign, the Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project and Trust for America’s Health; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will actively promote a shift in the national narrative around chronic absenteeism from blaming families and punishing students for their absences, to one that engages and empowers students, families and communities to strategically collaborate to improve student attendance; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will promote intersectoral approaches to chronic absenteeism, such as by encouraging the adoption of complementary state legislation that:

  • Commits financial support and other substantive resources to state departments of education, health, housing and justice;
  • Complements the work of state agency representatives attending the summer 2016 Every Student, Every Day national conference on chronic absenteeism hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, especially those who collaborate with labor leaders; and
  • Integrates a standard definition of chronic absenteeism into early warning and effective wraparound response systems, as well as into evaluation and other systems changes required and inspired by the Every Student Succeeds Act; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will prepare union leaders to address chronic absenteeism, such as by:

  • Highlighting districts and schools that have changed policies and practices to ones that have improved attendance;
  • Integrating the subject of chronic absenteeism into relevant bargaining efforts; and
  • Providing guidance on labor-management approaches; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will continue to explicitly link school improvement to chronic absenteeism reduction and to promote whole-child and whole-school improvement strategies grounded in strong labor, management and community collaboration, such as community schools, school-based health centers, excellent school-based Medicaid programs, robust staffing of school health professionals and the Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will champion the role of all school personnel (including teachers, school health professionals, paraprofessionals and support-related personnel) in building a culture of attendance and thoughtfully sharing responsibility to build systems for effective collection, analysis and action on student data, such as by:

  • Continuing to emphasize the importance of adequate time for well-rounded instructional programs in preparing 21st-century students, such as those that include arts education, physical activity, civics, and career and technical education, rather than excessive time for test preparation;
  • Engaging appropriate school personnel in the design of early warning and data collection systems;
  • Engaging appropriate school personnel in the effective and meaningful analysis of the root causes and social determinants of chronic absenteeism;
  • Integrating the subject of chronic absenteeism into relevant trainings; and
  • Making explicit the need to collect robust data on chronic absenteeism; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will compile a resource guide describing best practices in the arena of effective programs and methodologies (e.g., strategic public health interventions, community awareness, parent engagement, and effective attendance incentives and absenteeism consequences) that lead to improved attendance and a decrease in chronic absenteeism; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will facilitate and strengthen new and relevant national, state and local community partnerships to address the root causes of chronic absenteeism; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will advocate at the federal, state and local levels for adequate resources for the work to reduce chronic absenteeism, such as adequate funding, robust school and district staffing, relevant training and high expectations through higher-order, engaging pedagogical models.


Please note that a newer resolution, or portion of a resolution, may have superseded an earlier resolution on the same subject. As a result, with the exception of resolutions adopted at our most recent AFT convention, resolutions do not necessarily reflect current AFT policies.