Last month, we learned that West Virginia public schools have a student absenteeism problem. The State Department of Education’s Balanced Scorecard report found that more than one-third (38 percent) of all public schools in the state failed to meet the standard for attendance. That means at least 20 percent of the students missed 18 days or more a year, meaning they were chronically absent.
But now we are also learning that West Virginia has an issue with teacher absenteeism.
Figures accumulated by the State Department of Education show that over half of all West Virginia public school teachers (53 percent) miss more than 10 days out of their 200-day work schedule. McDowell County has the most teacher absences, with 89 percent of teachers missing more than 10 days.
The figures also show that 11 percent of all teachers missed more than 20 days. McDowell and Brooke Counties had the worst attendance records, where one in four teachers were absent more than 20 days.
It is important to note that the teachers have, in most cases, all these days coming to them. They are entitled to 12 leave or sick days and 3 personal days each year. Unused days accumulate from year to year, so you can hardly blame teachers for using them, but those absences have an impact.
There’s plenty of research showing teacher absences impact student outcomes. “When regular teachers are not in the classroom, opportunities for students to learn are cut short. This common sense conclusion is bolstered by statistical evidence showing that students whose teachers miss more days for sickness score lower on state achievement tests,” according to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Filling the absences with substitutes is also expensive. For example, Monongalia County spent $2.4 million on substitute teachers last school year. Kanawha County’s expenditures for substitutes reached $3.7 million, while Berkeley County expects to spend $4.5 million this year for the fill-ins.
The education reform law that went into effect earlier this year allows for a bonus of $500 for teachers who miss fewer than four days during the year. I’m not sure that’s enough to bend the curve.
The Wheeling Intelligencer newspaper reports that Ohio County schools pay a $1,350 incentive bonus for teachers if they don’t use all their sick days. Now $500 will be added onto that. It appears the incentive works because last year Ohio County had the lowest percentage (37 percent) of teachers who missed more than ten days.
It may seem antithetical to pay bonuses just for coming to work. However, absent any decision to reduce the number of benefit days, which would be extremely controversial, investing money budgeted for substitutes in paying more to teachers who will be in the classroom every day just makes sense.