In a second report on truancy throughout the state, California Attorney General Kamala Harris repeats her admonition from last year’s findings that “a truancy crisis continues in California.”
“California elementary school students continue to miss school at unacceptably high rates,” Harris said in a press release. “Improvements in education policy are moot if students are not in class. California needs common-sense solutions that help parents and educators reduce elementary school truancy.“
This year’s report found that 20 percent of elementary school students were truant. Truancies have increased in the past year.
Research in “In School + On Track 2014” found that more than “… 250,000 elementary school students were chronically absent in 2013-14 — defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year.” That is more than 18 days of school.
“… over 50,000 elementary students were chronically truant, and over 40,000 missed at least 36 days of school in one year,” the report found.
The truancy rate in the Hemet Unified School District was 27.3 percent last year. Locally, it was 18 percent at Idyllwild Elementary and dropped to 10 percent at Idyllwild Middle School, according to HUSDs Coordinator of Child Welfare and Attendance Frank Green.
In HUSD’s Local Control Accountability Plan, approved in June, the district set a goal to reduce chronic absenteeism rates. While HUSD’s truancy rate is lower than the average for Riverside County and the state, district officials will attempt to reduce it 1 percent annually over the next three years. To achieve these goals, hiring more elementary counselors is in the plan.
HUSD also will attempt to lower its suspension rates over the same period.
Idyllwild School Principal Matt Kraemer takes some extraordinary efforts to ensure students can be at school and have the opportunity to learn. Kraemer might make home visits to check on a student.
After three unverified absences or late by more than 30 minutes three times, he asks to meet with the family. “Sometimes these sessions can get contentious, because parents think the child only represents money, the ADA [average daily attendance reimbursement from the state]. But that the furtherest from our mind, its the educational role of the school,” said Kraemer
“Sometimes we learn things we didn’t know, such as a serious family illness or car problems,” he said.
Last year, a mother living in a remote area broke her leg and couldn’t drive. Kraemer arranged for a teacher, whose commute passed near this home, to pick up the student so they wouldn’t miss school. “Of course, this was a temporary measure,” he said.
During the spring, following a release of her first truancy report in September 2013, Harris partnered with several legislative members to formulate a package of bills to address these problems.
The bills would help schools and counties work with parents to address the core reasons behind truancy and chronic absence. They would 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.
All four were passed in August, but Gov. Jerry Brown signed only two of them — Assembly bills 1643 and 2141. The latter 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 guarantee baseline information sharing between referring agencies and prosecutors.
However, Brown vetoed Assembly bills 1672 and 1866. In his veto message, Brown explained, “AB 1866 would require school districts to collect and report a significant amount of new student attendance information through the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System. While well intentioned, the collection of data for the interest of faraway authorities would not get to the root of the issue — keeping kids in school and on track.
“AB 1672 would place new data collection and reporting burdens on districts that have voluntarily established local School Attendance Review Boards. A broad group of local education leaders believe AB 1672 ‘is simply a new requirement that mandates large amounts of specific data collection, disaggregation, formatting and Internet posting.’ I agree. Districts already have the ability to collect attendance and truancy data, and must address school attendance and chronic absenteeism under the Local Control Funding Formula.
“[LCFF] was created because local education agencies are the ones best suited to set goals and guidelines for their students. In the same vein, efforts to combat truancy are best exercised at the school level among teachers, principals and local school officials.”
In response to the governor’s veto action, Harris said in a press release, “I am disappointed that Governor Brown vetoed AB 1866 and AB 1672. These are missed opportunities to help keep California’s youngest and most vulnerable students on track. The facts are very clear … We must get serious about keeping track of whether young children are in school.”
But she added, “The governor has expressed his commitment to reducing absenteeism and his signature of AB 1643 and AB 2141 are good steps in the right direction.”
“In School + On Track 2013” 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, according to the report.