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It would be short-sighted to look at the problems at Ballou High School as an isolated scandal: one school alone cannot remedy decades of economic inequality and racial injustice. Chronic absenteeism is widespread across public schools, and reflects the enormous challenges faced by too many DC students and their families—unhealthy environments, housing instability, food insecurity, and the stress of living paycheck to paycheck, as a Ballou student so poignantly expressed.
Ballou High School’s attendance problems also reflect the District’s failure to follow through on our commitment to equitably distribute resources among schools. DC schools are supposed to get additional resources, through “at-risk” funds, to target resources for low-income students and students who are struggling academically. Yet DCPS schools have been underfunded, forcing schools to misuse nearly half of “at-risk” dollars for basic staff positions, rather than supports for the students who need them most, like meaningful credit recovery programs.
“Chronic absenteeism at Ballou and many other schools reflects a failure of the District to follow through on its commitments to children and youth, both inside and outside the classroom,” said Marlana Wallace, education policy analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. “As a start, the District should make sure that every dollar intended to provide additional resources for low-income and academically struggling students actually goes to help those students.”