Nearly a year after California Attorney General Kamala Harris released her first report on “In School + On Track,” the state legislature responded to her plea to change the pattern of truancy in state schools.
In September 2013, Harris released the report as an effort to draw attention to the problem of truancy of school-aged children and its lifetime effects on them. In March, she, along with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and four state legislators, proposed a package of legislation to encourage reducing elementary-school truancy throughout the state.
The legislature approved all four bills that are now awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.
“Each year, approximately 1 million California elementary-school children are truant from class. Good education policies are meaningless if students aren’t at their desks,” Harris said. “I applaud the legislature for bringing us one step closer to stopping this crisis.”
If signed into law, these bills will help schools and counties work with parents to address the core reasons behind truancy and chronic absence. They give 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.
Two of the bills will help ensure that schools, districts, counties and the state can evaluate the success of interventions to combat truancy and chronic absence.
Assembly Bill 1672 expands the annual reports from local School Attendance Review Boards to include information on student enrollment, absence and truancy rates, district attorney referrals and intervention outcomes. Current annual attendance reports provide minimal information about intervention outcomes, so it is difficult to get the full picture of efforts around the state.
AB 2141 requires that district attorney offices provide a report to school officials on the outcome of truancy-related referrals. This will help school officials determine which outcomes are most effective and guarantees baseline information sharing between referring agencies and prosecutors.
Harris’ 2013 report, “In School + On Track” (https://oag.ca.gov/truancy) contained the first statewide statistics on California’s elementary-school truancy crisis. It revealed that in the 2012-13 school year, 1 million elementary-school students were truant and 250,000 elementary-school students missed 18 or more school days at a cost of $1.4 billion in lost funds to California school districts. In some California elementary-schools, 92 percent of the students were truant last year. Annually, dropouts cost California taxpayers an estimated $46.4 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and lost taxes.
Next month, Harris will issue the 2014 “In School + On Track” report containing updated statewide figures on elementary-school truancy and its fiscal impact on local school districts.