About five months after issuing a report on the consequences — economic and personal — of truancy, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and four state legislators have proposed a package of legislation to encourage the reduction of elementary school truancy throughout the state.

Not only is a child’s future success diminished because of truancy, but Harris’ September report found state school district lost about $1.4 billion in 2010-2011 from student absences. Riverside County school districts lost about $111.9 million.

According to the report, elementary school truancy is at the root of the state’s chronic criminal justice problems, and missing large amounts of school is one of the strongest predictors of dropping-out, even more so than suspensions or test scores. Annually, dropouts cost California taxpayers an estimated $46.4 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and lost taxes.

For these reasons, Attorney General Harris said “The California Constitution guarantees every child the right to an education, yet we are failing our youngest children, as early as kindergarten. These are children as young as five years old who are out of school, falling behind, and too many of them never catch up. This crisis is not only crippling for our economy, it is a basic threat to public safety.”

Consequently, Harris and Torlakson, State Senator Bill Monning and Assemblymembers Raul Bocanegra, Rob Bonta, Joan Buchanan, Isadore Hall and Chris Holden announced their sponsorship of five bills that will help schools, parents and government effectively intervene when children are chronically absent, and improve local school districts’ and counties’ abilities to track attendance patterns.

The legislation will assist schools and counties as they work with parents to address the core reasons behind truancy and chronic absence. For example, one bill will require that when a parent or student is referred to district attorney’s office or any other agency engaged in prosecution enforcing state school attendance laws, the prosecuting agency must provide a report on the outcome of the referral. This will help school officials determine which outcomes are effective and guarantees baseline information sharing between referring agencies and prosecutors.

Local school districts and counties will be provided tools to comply with attendance tracking requirements in the Local Control Funding Formula, state truancy mandates and state and federal reporting requirements. Another of the bills will require that every county create a School Attendance Review Board to provide training, guidance and oversight to school district SARBs within a county to ensure consistency and achievement of their core mission— improved attendance.

Both state and local systems for tracking and preventing truancy and chronic absence will be substantially improved. California is one of only four states in the country that does not currently collect student attendance data. This will allow local school districts to monitor and analyze attendance patterns,

“In School +On Track,” which one of the bills would mandate annually, also made the point that elementary school truancy is at the root of the state’s chronic criminal justice problems. Missing large amounts of school is one of the strongest predictors of falling behind academically and dropping out, even in early grades.

Students who don’t read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely not to receive a high school diploma than proficient readers, which puts them at risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of crime. An increase of graduation rates by just 10 percent would result in a 20 percent drop in violent crime, and prevent 500 murders and more than 20,000 aggravated assaults per year in California.