Using data from North Carolina, this paper examines the frequency, incidence, and consequences of teacher absences in public schools, as well as the impact of an absence disincentive policy. The incidence of teacher absences is regressive: when schools are ranked by the fraction of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, schools in the poorest quartile averaged almost one extra sick day per teacher than schools in the highest income quartile, and schools with persistently high rates of teacher absence were much more likely to serve low-income than high-income students. The authors find that absences are associated with lower student achievement in elementary grades and that the demand for discretionary absences is price-elastic. Estimates suggest that a policy intervention which simultaneously raised teacher base salaries and broadened financial penalties for absences could both raise teachers' expected income and lower districts' expected costs.
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