Responsibility for School Attendance
Wisconsin public schools share responsibility with students and caregivers to ensure school-age children are enrolled in and attending appropriate educational programs. The law provides that any person having under their control a child who is between the ages of 6 and 18 years and that has not yet graduated from high school shall cause the child to attend school regularly during the full period and hours, religious holidays excepted, that the public or private school in which the child should be enrolled is in session until the end of the school term, quarter, or semester of the school year in which the child becomes 18 years of age. [Wis. Stat. § 118.15(1)(a)]. Instruction in a home-based private educational program (home schooling) that meets the criteria found in Wis. Stat. § 118.165(1) may be substituted for attendance at a public or private school. [Wis. Stat. § 118.15(4)]. There is no exception in the law for a child who has been expelled and that child is still required to attend school (or a legal alternative). If the expelled student is a student with a disability, the resident district must continue to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
The Wisconsin Constitution guarantees a free education for children ages 4 through 20 who have not yet graduated from high school. The requirement of the local school district to provide free public elementary and secondary education to resident children is stated in Wis. Stat. §. 121.77(1) as follows: “Every elementary school and high school shall be free to all pupils who reside in the school district.” A school district must enroll and serve a resident student immediately. A school district may deny education services only if: the student is not a resident of the district; or, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 120.13(1)(f), if the student is currently expelled from another Wisconsin public school district.
Understand Compulsory Attendance and Truancy Laws
Local school boards determine attendance policies in accordance with state laws. The Department of Public Instruction provides consultation, technical assistance, and resources to help schools reduce truancy and improve attendance. Questions or complaints about a school district’s attendance and truancy policies and practices should be directed to the local school district. Below are some resources to provide general information on attendance and truancy for caregivers and school staff.
Cross Systems Work: Required Truancy Committee and Plans
At least once every 4 years, in each county, the school district administrator of the school district which contains the county seat designated under s. 59.05, or his or her designee, shall convene a committee to review and make recommendations to the school boards of all of the school districts in the county on revisions to the school districts' truancy plans under sub. (4m). Specific representatives of specific agencies must be included per Wis. Stat. § 118.162 (See WI county seat map).
Attendance Resources from the Department of Public Instruction
Shortened School Day Bulletin - Special Education Information Update Bulletin 14.03
Beyond Credits and Seat Time and Toward Innovative Practices that Lead to College and Career Readiness (2017) The document serves as a tool for districts to address the unique needs of students and adapt practices for their benefit. It also includes statutory changes around ways to grant students credits by demonstrating proficiency in a subject.
- Habitual Truancy and Virtual Schools
- Alternative Education
- GED/HSED Program
- Open Enrollment (Elementary, Middle School, High School)
- Open Enrollment (4K/5K/Early Childhood)
- Alternative Open Enrollment
- The Wisconsin Dropout Early Warning System (DEWS) provides predictive scores for which middle school students will not complete high school on schedule to help guide and focus local supports and interventions.
- National Organizations
Attendance Works - Attendance Works collaborates with stakeholders to ensure that everyone recognizes that chronic absence is a serious issue that can be addressed using a positive, problem-solving approach. Their work includes research, policy ideas, and various tools on improving school participation and reducing truancy
National Center for School Engagement (NCSE) - NCSE collaborates with school districts, law enforcement agencies, courts, and state and federal agencies to support youth and their families to be engaged at school. They pay special attention to school engagement, attendance, dropout prevention, and the mental health needs of students and staff
National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments - School Participation - The Center offers information and technical assistance to states, districts, schools, institutions of higher learning, and communities focused on improving school climate and conditions for learning. This site includes links to research and tools on improving school participation and reducing truancy
National Dropout Prevention Center - By helping school systems implement proven and innovative dropout prevention strategies and structures, NDPC has made a transformative impact on education from the local to the national level.
National Student Attendance, Engagement, and Success Center - The mission of the NSAESC is to disseminate evidence-based practices and build and facilitate communities of practice to help students attend every day, be engaged in school, and succeed academically, so that they graduate high school prepared for college, career, and civic life.
Dropout Prevention - U.S. Department of Education What Works Clearinghouse - Search the WWC and access the Resources Page to find the information you need to make evidence-based decisions in your classrooms and schools.
- Understanding Best Practices and Improving Systems
Attendance Playbook: Smart Strategies for Reducing Student Absenteeism Post- Pandemic (May 2023) Future Ed and Attendance Works - To help education policymakers and practitioners respond to the post-pandemic absenteeism crisis in the nation’s schools, FutureEd and Attendance Works have created a comprehensive compendium of strategies to address the many different dimensions of the absenteeism dilemma.
Handouts for Families - Attendance Works
What research tells us about effective truancy prevention and intervention programs – UW-Madison and UW-Madison Extension
Best Practices Review: Truancy Reduction Efforts Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau (2008)
Finding Effective Solutions to Truancy – UW-Madison and UW-Madison Extension
- Attendance in Early Grades
Early Attendance Research (2012)