by Joanne Goldblum, Founder and Executive Director of the National Diaper Bank Network originally for the Huffington Post
Sometimes students miss school because they don’t have clean uniforms. Their parents cannot afford detergent or even enough quarters to do a load of laundry.
“A lot of schools have a few backup uniforms,” said Kathryn Scheinberg Meyer, an attorney with the Center for Children’s Advocacy, an organization that provides legal representation to poor children. “But schools cannot possibly meet the need if all of their students are poor.”
Education is often touted as an avenue to escape poverty. But in the United States, poor children are far more likely to be chronically absent from school than kids from more fortunate families. A study by Johns Hopkins University, for example, found that half of all chronically absent students in Florida came from 12 percent of the state’s districts, which were located in low-income communities. Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year. More than one in 10 American students are chronically absent.
Absenteeism matters. It is more strongly associated with dropping out than low test scores. The reasons that children from low-income families miss more school are varied. Their families may not have the ability to advocate for proper services for students with learning or physical disabilities. They may live in poor quality housing that puts them at risk of lead or mold exposure and causes illness. Logistical challenges, like the lack of a clean uniform or a winter coat, often play a role.