Ray Carter | May 13, 2024

School Bible classes linked to better attendance

Ray Carter

School absenteeism has surged both nationally and in Oklahoma following the COVID pandemic, contributing to poor academic outcomes and other negative trends.

But proponents of allowing students to be excused for Bible study—as would be allowed by legislation now advancing through the Oklahoma Legislature—say that bill would not only impact students’ moral foundations but also generate positive ripple effects that include better attendance.

LifeWise Academy, which operated in 320 schools nationwide in the 2023-2024 school year, provides Bible-based character education to public-school students through offsite instruction during the school day.

A 2023 review of 76 schools in Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa, which had a combined 13,798 students participating in LifeWise programming, found there was a strong, statistically significant correlation between LifeWise Academy participation and improved school-wide attendance in participating districts beginning in the first year. In the second-to-third year, participating schools also experienced lower discipline rates.

The review included testimonial quotes from several school officials and parents, including Shalonda Likely-Roach, an elementary principal in Columbus, Ohio, an urban district.

Likely-Roach stated, “LifeWise has made a positive impact on students’ attendance, behavior, and social-emotional well-being.” She said the school’s average daily attendance has exceeded the school’s goal of 90 percent on the days students can attend LifeWise, and that disciplinary infractions for students who attend LifeWise “have decreased by more than 50%.”

Officials are increasingly concerned about rising absenteeism in public schools in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

A recent national poll of 1,031 teachers, conducted by Morning Consult for EdChoice, found that 40 percent of teachers reported student absences had become either a little or a lot more frequent, an increase of 12 percentage points from a year prior. Only 14 percent reported that student absences had become less frequent.

The poll also found that 47 percent of teachers reported that student misbehavior had become more frequent, an increase of eight percentage points from a year prior. Only 16 percent reported that student behavior problems had become less frequent.

Seventy-three percent of teachers reported that their classes were interrupted by student discipline issues at least somewhat frequently.

Against that backdrop, state lawmakers have advanced a bill that would allow Oklahoma public-school students to be excused from class for off-site Bible instruction.

Under House Bill 1425, Oklahoma schools would be required to adopt a policy that excuses a student to attend a “released time course” for no more than three class periods per week or a maximum of 125 class periods per school year.

The legislation defines “released time course” as “a period of time during which a student is excused from school to attend a course in religious or moral instruction taught by an independent entity off school property.”

Students could participate only if a parent or legal guardian provides written consent, and students would be responsible for any missed schoolwork.

When he presented the bill, state Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, noted that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a similar law in 1952.

“It’s been lawful to do this, but the school districts didn’t really know how to follow it,” Rader said. “So, this bill here gives a framework, gives the guidelines by which school districts can put this together.”

HB 1425 passed the Oklahoma Senate on a bipartisan 38-7 vote. The bill currently awaits a vote in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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