- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Educators and advocates on Wednesday expressed support for efforts to change Nebraska’s truancy law at a hearing before a legislative committee.

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a pair of amendments that would make changes to the state’s truancy law.

In 2012, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha introduced the law that allowed schools to report to the county attorney when students missed 20 days or more due to documented illness or other approved excuses. If any of the absences are not excused, the school can request more time to work with the student or can request that the county attorney intervene.

Under an amendment to the law introduced by Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, school attendance officers would report to the county attorney only if all 20 absences are unexcused, instead of if any are unexcused.

Ashford proposed amending Krist’s plan to make it so that illnesses would not need to be documented and schools could not report the information to county attorneys if all 20 absences are excused. His amendment would also provide $2 million for grants for school districts to reduce absenteeism and truancy.

The intention of reforming the system was to find the students who needed help, Ashford said. “The implementation left quite a bit to be desired,” Ashford said.

Brenda Vosik, director of the Nebraska Family Forum, an organization that wants to protect parental authority in education, testified in support of the Ashford’s proposal.

The Council on Student Attendance, which would be created by that amendment, could help suggest reasonable policy across the state.

“Across the state, schools have adopted attendance policies that do not account for legitimate absences,” such as family funerals or a college visit, she said.

“They are not truant children,” she said.

Mary Bahney, representing the School Social Work Association of Nebraska, testified against the proposals.

School attendance issues are often a sign of other problems within a family, she said. Bahney was concerned that the 20 unexcused absence threshold was too high and could prevent earlier intervention.

More than 70 percent of Nebraska students who missed 20 or more days of school last year lived in poverty, according to a report by Voices for Children in Nebraska. Voices for Children advocates for the betterment of the state’s vulnerable children.

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The measures are AM1674 and AM1734

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