California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Credit: Office of the Attorney General

California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Credit: Office of the Attorney General

State Attorney General Kamala Harris and a team of legislators Monday introduced a package of bills to battle chronic student absenteeism, in yet another sign of the growing reexamination of school attendance and discipline policies.

One legislator called his anti-truancy bill the first step in dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. Another said the new truancy legislation would provide services for chronically absent students and their families, not criminal sentences. And Harris said that asking why children are not in class requires school districts to look more deeply at the lives of their students. “We must be compelled to think about that child in the context of the family,” Harris said.

About 1 million California elementary school students each year are truant, meaning they have three or more unexcused absences or tardies. Chronic absenteeism, defined as missing 10 percent or more school days during the year, is a strong predictor of dropping out of school, Harris said, and has enormous social and financial costs for the student, school and state.

“The issue is not only the waste in terms of human potential, it’s also about, for our state, wasted tax revenue,” Harris said. She estimated that school districts lose $1.4 billion a year in federal funding they would have received based on student attendance.

The bills, which seek to provide solutions to problems identified in a state truancy report Harris released last year, aim to modernize attendance monitoring and build support for schools, parents and communities to get California’s children to class.

Assembly Bill 1866, authored by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima, would for the first time collect statewide student data on chronic absenteeism by adding additional data fields into the existing student database. That information, Bocanegra said, is the first step in dismantling what he described as a cycle that goes from chronic absenteeism, to high school dropout, to unemployment and possible criminal activity. Once chronically absent students are tracked, schools can begin more effective interventions, he said.

The new education finance law, known as the Local Control Funding Formula, requires school districts to track chronic student absenteeism and to formulate a plan by July 1 for how they will do that. “This bill is really the means through which to implement that requirement,” said Ben Golombek, chief of staff for Bocanegra.

School Attendance Review Boards will be the main mechanism for improving support for truant students and their families. First created by the Legislature in 1974 and currently in use in scattered districts and counties, these review boards bring together representatives from the school district, law enforcement and social service agencies to help divert truant students and their families from the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The intention is to address the root causes of the truancy, which for elementary school children, Harris said, typically have to do with parents not understanding the compulsory education law or not being able to get their children to school.

Assembly Bill 1643, authored by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, would require that every county create a School Attendance Review Board. Its partner bill, Assembly Bill 1672, authored by Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, would require School Attendance Review Boards to report annually on referral rates to county offices of education and include information on intervention outcomes. “We are not — underscore not — putting more students in the juvenile court system, but inviting more communities to intervene before the criminal justice system is involved,” Holden said.

Looking into attendance problems can reveal a wide range of social travails, said Colleen Alton, chairwoman of the Chino Valley Unified School District’s Student Attendance Review Board, which has been recognized as a Model Student Attendance Review Board by the California Department of Education. She recalled a student in elementary school who had missed several days who turned out to be living with his single mother and four siblings in a 12-by-24-foot converted garage with a leaking roof and a hot plate. The student’s older siblings walked the younger siblings to school, but often arrived late. In working with the review board and its partners in government and nonprofit agencies, the school was able to obtain a gasoline debit card so that a relative could drive the children to school. They were also able to connect the family with agencies that provided food and clothing.

“I’ve had a teacher call and tell me that a student turned in homework with wax on it,” Alton said. The student’s family didn’t have electricity. And Alton said she frequently receives calls from apartment building managers and maintenance workers about children hanging around when they should be in school. “The economy hit hard, in many areas,” Alton said. The review board isn’t a punitive body, she said. “We look at it as a problem-solving entity.”


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  1. el 2 years ago2 years ago

    The problem-solving approach is a good one. I would suggest that any SARB have at top of mind with any student, regardless of the reasons that are presented, that the student is being bullied or is otherwise socially and mentally uncomfortable in school, either by fellow students or possibly a staff member. It could also be a problem of feeling safe traveling to and from school. The way we handle chronic absenteeism - the missing 10% of … Read More

    The problem-solving approach is a good one.

    I would suggest that any SARB have at top of mind with any student, regardless of the reasons that are presented, that the student is being bullied or is otherwise socially and mentally uncomfortable in school, either by fellow students or possibly a staff member. It could also be a problem of feeling safe traveling to and from school.

    The way we handle chronic absenteeism – the missing 10% of days in the school year in the upper grades ends up being something of a tautology. If you miss too many days, you will fail your classes regardless of whether the academic work is complete. Once you start losing credits or get past that threshold, the point of continuing on with the work loses its immediacy. Administrators should always be careful that when they put a kid in a box, that they only leave holes with appropriate choices. Telling a kid ‘if you miss one more day then you’ll fail everything’ is maybe not a smart move if the kid doesn’t think it is possible to avoid missing more days. Instead, working out makeup strategies like saturday schools or extra work or community service may be more effective.

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    • mg 2 years ago2 years ago

      I agree with your response. The personnel you describe is just what should be happening in school. We are a civil society, why should we not watch what we say as a principal, asst. principal, etc. With overcrowded schools it is really hard for staff to even want to encourage students to be productive citizens and understand that school is how they will obtain a job., and reading is key. Millions, Billions are poured out to … Read More

      I agree with your response.
      The personnel you describe is just what should be happening in school. We are a civil society, why should we not watch what we say as a principal, asst. principal, etc.
      With overcrowded schools it is really hard for staff to even want to encourage students to be productive citizens and understand that school is how they will obtain a job., and reading is key. Millions, Billions are poured out to the state. What are we getting back in return? My opinion, not the millions, billions worth given to the schools.

  2. BossHawg 2 years ago2 years ago

    I hope the bill includes the disallowing of using suspension as punishment for truancy. Seems counter productive to suspend a student for not going to class. All the suspension does is give the student exactly what he/she wants – out of school. Most ridiculous punishment I’ve ever heard of.

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    • jayW 2 years ago2 years ago

      Back in the 60's,70's,and 80's it seemed to work. A suspension would make the parent stay home from work and discipline their child for a day. Let's see stay home and quiet possibly not get paid for the day. I know my parents would have raked me over the coals if that happen. And I for one would make sure that would not happen again. I guess times have changed and now the teachers are … Read More

      Back in the 60’s,70’s,and 80’s it seemed to work. A suspension would make the parent stay home from work and discipline their child for a day. Let’s see stay home and quiet possibly not get paid for the day. I know my parents would have raked me over the coals if that happen. And I for one would make sure that would not happen again. I guess times have changed and now the teachers are having to take on more responsibilities that a parent should be dealing with.

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