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“Truancy Crisis” Addressed in Legislation Package

March 21, 2014

California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a package of legislation on March 10 aimed at helping education leaders address truancy within their schools.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, an estimated 1 million elementary school students are truant and 250,000 elementary school students miss more than 10 percent of the school year, at a cost of $1.4 billion in lost funds to California school districts.

Joined by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, state Sen. Bill Monning and Assemblymembers Raul Bocanegra, Rob Bonta, Joan Buchanan, Isadore Hall and Chris Holden, Attorney General Harris announced her sponsorship of five bills that aim to help schools, parents and government – effectively intervene when children are chronically absent, and improve local school districts’ and counties’ ability to track attendance patterns.

“California’s Constitution guarantees our children the right to an education, yet our elementary schools face a truancy crisis,” said Harris. “When children in kindergarten through sixth grade miss school, they fall behind and too many never catch up. The consequences for California’s economy and public safety are very serious. These bills modernize attendance monitoring and build the support schools, parents and communities need to get California’s children to class.”

The legislation is designed to do the following:

  1. Assist schools and counties as they work with parents to address the core reasons behind truancy and chronic absence.
  2. Provide local school districts and counties tools to comply with attendance tracking requirements in the Local Control Funding Formula, state truancy mandates and state and federal reporting requirements.
  3. Modernize state and local systems to track and prevent truancy and chronic absence.
  4. Ensure that schools, districts, counties and the state can evaluate the success of interventions to combat truancy and chronic absence.

Missing large amounts of school is one of the strongest predictors of falling behind academically and dropping out, even in early grades. The attorney general’s 2013 report on elementary school truancy, “In School + On Track,” found that first-grade students with nine or more total absences are twice as likely to drop out of high school, and 82 percent of all prisoners are high school dropouts. Annually, dropouts cost California taxpayers an estimated $46.4 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and lost taxes.

The legislation package includes the following:

Senate Bill 1107, Monning, D-Carmel. Mandated Annual Report Legislation. Mandates that the California attorney general issue an annual report on elementary school truancy and chronic absenteeism similar to 2013’s “In School + On Track” report. This aims to help track truancy and chronic absence rates and highlight effective programs to improve attendance across the state.

Assembly Bill 1866, Bocanegra, D-Los Angeles. Statewide Attendance Data System. Enhances the state Department of Education’s student record system to include fields on truancy and absenteeism. California is one of only four states in the country that does not collect student attendance data. This will allow local school districts to monitor and analyze attendance patterns, as required under the LCFF.

AB 1672, Holden, D-Pasadena. Enhanced SARB Reports. Requires that local School Attendance Review Boards report annually on referral rates to county offices of education and expand these reports to include information on student enrollment, absence and truancy rates, district attorney referrals and SARB intervention outcomes. Current annual SARB reports provide minimal information about intervention outcomes, so it is difficult to get the full picture of SARB efforts around the state. This bill aims to ensure schools, districts and counties can evaluate the success of truancy intervention efforts.

AB 1643, Buchanan, D-Alamo. Mandatory SARBs. Requires that every county create a SARB. Forty years ago, the Legislature created SARBs in order to divert students who were having school attendance issues from the juvenile justice system. County SARBs are a local tool to provide training, guidance and oversight to local SARBs within a county to ensure consistency and achievement of the SARB’s core mission: improved attendance.

AB 2141, Bonta, D-Alameda. District Attorney Referral Outcome Reports. Requires that when a parent or student is referred to a district attorney’s office or any other agency engaged in prosecution, or charges are considered to enforce state school attendance laws, the prosecuting agency must provide a report on the outcome of the referral. This aims to help school officials determine which outcomes are effective and guarantees baseline information sharing between referring agencies and prosecutors.

Source:  Association of California School Administrators