By: Liz Tufts

A new study shows students in Rhode Island are absent from school more than any other state in New England, but one local school district is trying to change that.

Close to 143,000 students attend public schools in Rhode Island, but according to a new report, a staggering number of them aren't coming to class.

Data released from the Department of Education shows 19 percent of students are chronically absent. Some are not going to school for at least 15 days.

Rhode Island has the highest rate in New England.

Elizabeth Burke Bryant is the executive director of Rhode Island's kids count; an organization that's been tracking the absentee issue for years.She says, “Children in poverty, are more likely to move frequently, and are more likely to have health issues that are more chronic.”

The district with the highest chronic absentee rate is Woonsocket, at 42 percent. Providence is at 39 percent, and central Falls at 38 percent.

Providence Schools Superintendent Christopher Maher says, “Chronic absenteeism is an issue for any school district.”

As a new superintendent, Maher is making this issue his top priority. He has started working with teachers, and parents of at risk students, telling them the importance of having students in the classroom.

“Once the year gets started we look at the data and say who's missing more days, why are they missing days. We start having those conversations and then we target students that are really at risk becoming chronically absent and we work with them individually to try to get them back in school and so far it's working”, Maher says.

Three elementary schools in providence have seen a dramatic decrease in absenteeism rates last year.

The superintend hopes the trend will catch on.

© WLNE-TV / ABC6                        2016