California is facing an “attendance crisis” in which an estimated 1 million students were declared truant last year, state Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a new report calling for a stronger focus on fighting absenteeism.

“These are children as young as 5 years old who are out of school, falling behind, and too many of them never catch up,” Harris said in a statement. “This crisis is not only crippling for our economy, it is a basic threat to public safety. It’s time for accountability and to craft real solutions at every level – from parents to school districts to law enforcement – to solve this problem.”

Harris unveiled a report that she said provided the first state-wide statistics on truancy. Her findings: 1 million elementary school students were truant last year, and 250,000 elementary students missed 18 or more school days. The absences cost schools $1.4 billion in attendance funding, according to the report, called “In School and On Track” and released Monday at an anti-truancy event in Los Angeles.

A student is considered truant if they are absent or tardy by more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse on three occasions in a school year; a student is chronically truant if they are absent without a valid excuse for least 10 percent of the school year. A student is considered chronically absent if they miss at least 10 percent of the school year – or 18 days in an 180-day academic year – with or without a valid excuse. A valid excuse can be an illness or a medical appointment.

In some schools, 92 percent of students were truant last year, said the report, which was based on information from schools and interviews with administrators. Statewide, 691,470 elementary students – 1 out of every 5 students – was reported truant in 2011-12, the report said.

Rates of chronic absenteeism were also high, the report said.

More than 250,000 elementary school students missed more than 18 days of school, while 20,000 elementary school children missed 36 or more days in a single year, the report said.

Harris – who made fighting truancy a key initiative when she was San Francisco District Attorney – said the California Department of Education should develop a statewide system to collect attendance data on individual students; the state currently has no such method to track attendance. But Harris also said that fighting the problem will require coordination across all levels of society – from schools and districts to parents and community groups and law enforcement, who she said should prosecute parents of chronically truant students under state attendance laws.

Students who frequently miss school suffer academically and are a greater risk for dropping out, research has shown.

Dropouts cost the state an estimated $46.4 billion in lost productivity, lost taxes and incarceration costs, according to information from Harris’ office.

Realizing that the root reasons children miss school can be complex, a growing body of educators is taking a more holistic approach to fighting truancy and chronic absenteeism. Those approaches, which can include home visits from social workers or health aides, seek to help families who may be struggling with substance abuse, mental health, homelessness or other issues that impact a child’s ability to attend school regularly.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has convened forums bringing together diverse agencies to help address the causes of chronic absenteeism and truancy. Torlakson was also named Monday to a national advisory board convened by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to advise communities and states on strategies for reducing chronic absenteeism.

“I welcome the growing attention around chronic absence because its implications are staggering,” Torlakson said in response to Harris’ report. “Our schools work every day to give students the tools they need to succeed. It will take all of us – parents, law enforcement, health professionals and more – working together to be sure students are there to receive them.”

The truancy report took seven months to research, Harris said. She said she will issue similar reports every year.

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  1. kj 6 years ago6 years ago

    The new CDE rules defining truancy create a bigger number of truancy rates than were recorded in the past. For a simple cold, students are now required to either return to school in three days or bring proof of illness with an expensive doctor note verifying the student has a simple cold. Families, who cannot afford to visit a doctor every time the child or children are sick, are forced to send … Read More

    The new CDE rules defining truancy create a bigger number of truancy rates than were recorded in the past. For a simple cold, students are now required to either return to school in three days or bring proof of illness with an expensive doctor note verifying the student has a simple cold. Families, who cannot afford to visit a doctor every time the child or children are sick, are forced to send their children back to school before the cold has completely run its course to end, or the family faces charges of truancy. The public schools have become disease factories and children are put under pressure to resume school with snot dripping and coughing spells or face harassment. When did the Department of Education become specialists in medicine determining that running snotty noses, coughing spells, and tiredness are not grounds for common sense staying home and eating chicken soup. Of course make up work is required. This is not truancy. This is CDE lunacy, making the learning environment a disease factory, and presupposing negative intentions of well intending families, who cannot afford a doctor visit every time there children are exposed to the disease factories that the schools are becoming. Repeal this aspect of the law and I guarantee the truancy rate will decrease substantially.

  2. KSC 6 years ago6 years ago

    It would be terrific if EdSource could clarify whether or not schools actually lost $1.4 billion or whether its just under a different walnut shell. If the loss is real, then can we please reconsider funding school buses? In my neighborhood, getting kids to and from school has a massive impact on families and the kinds of jobs they can take. A combination of after school programs and/or care and school buses would not only help … Read More

    It would be terrific if EdSource could clarify whether or not schools actually lost $1.4 billion or whether its just under a different walnut shell.

    If the loss is real, then can we please reconsider funding school buses? In my neighborhood, getting kids to and from school has a massive impact on families and the kinds of jobs they can take. A combination of after school programs and/or care and school buses would not only help get kids to school but it would also be an enormous contribution towards work flexibility for middle and low income families. Win-win.

  3. el 6 years ago6 years ago

    We had some good discussion in the other EdSource article that was linked in the story (http://www.edsource.org/2013/class-matters-schools-increasing-focus-on-intervention-understanding-to-stem-chronic-absenteeism-at-its-roots/37975#.Uk2GOBZqykJ ) Sometimes in these discussions there's a real emphasis on the hammer - punishing kids and parents who aren't getting to school. Often it would be good to look inward: is our campus a healthy, safe, happy place for this student? What is the temperature of the classrooms on a warm day or a cold day? What is the … Read More

    We had some good discussion in the other EdSource article that was linked in the story (http://www.edsource.org/2013/class-matters-schools-increasing-focus-on-intervention-understanding-to-stem-chronic-absenteeism-at-its-roots/37975#.Uk2GOBZqykJ )

    Sometimes in these discussions there’s a real emphasis on the hammer – punishing kids and parents who aren’t getting to school. Often it would be good to look inward: is our campus a healthy, safe, happy place for this student? What is the temperature of the classrooms on a warm day or a cold day? What is the air quality in the classrooms? What is it like to be sickly and sneezy or otherwise not 100%? Does this child have a pleasant day at school? Does the student have anything to look forward to in the school day? Can something be changed so that there is a place in the day where this student feels welcomed and successful?

    It’s also worth looking at exterior pressures. With younger kids, child care problems can be a reason the parent doesn’t get them to school, especially if the parent has a need to travel. I know some administrators are pretty savvy about arranging school schedules to try to anticipate certain high absence days.

    And sometimes it is that the parent doesn’t make the effort to get the child to school. Obviously those situations need to be dealt with however they can be.

    I will also repeat that this number may overcount the students who are actually in crisis. I suspect that it includes parents who simply forgot to call the second day their child was sick, as well as cases where kids who are fine academically were taken out of school for a family trip.

    Unfortunately, many of these kids really need every hour of school, and sometimes parents pull academically troubled kids for weeks for long term family travel. I would love to hear if there have been successful solutions to this. The only thought I have is to look back to school culture, so that the kids themselves really want to be in school, and to figure out how to involve those parents in school so that they’re excited about the school program.

  4. navigio 6 years ago6 years ago

    Um, here's a thought. How about we fund schools such that they dont look and feel like prisons; so that they have enough programs and resources to make a student actually want to be there. We have a middle school with 800 kids and 10 computers and no library, all while district and state leaders are going on and on about 21st century learning. Kids know that we don't care about them when we treat … Read More

    Um, here’s a thought. How about we fund schools such that they dont look and feel like prisons; so that they have enough programs and resources to make a student actually want to be there. We have a middle school with 800 kids and 10 computers and no library, all while district and state leaders are going on and on about 21st century learning. Kids know that we don’t care about them when we treat them like this. Why should they give us or our schools any respect? Because we passed a law that says they have to?

    Replies

    • el 6 years ago6 years ago

      I know it's expensive (all too well!) but there shouldn't be any school in the state without an adequate air conditioning and heating system. I work from home and our house for several years could be quite cold in winter and quite warm in summer. I did not realize how much that sapped my productivity and mental acuity until we finally got the HVAC in. It's a simple, straightforward thing. Plus, all these computers that we think … Read More

      I know it’s expensive (all too well!) but there shouldn’t be any school in the state without an adequate air conditioning and heating system.

      I work from home and our house for several years could be quite cold in winter and quite warm in summer. I did not realize how much that sapped my productivity and mental acuity until we finally got the HVAC in.

      It’s a simple, straightforward thing. Plus, all these computers that we think our kids should have will dump heat into the classrooms and have a shortened life without the AC. I really think it will do more to raise achievement than any of the various reformy popular prescriptions, and probably at less cost.

      It is better than it was when I was a kid, when the bathrooms were unusably disgusting. Clean, adequate facilities are part of what makes it nice to come to school. The state of the facilities is definitely a sign of where we as a community value education.

    • el 6 years ago6 years ago

      navigio, you’ll appreciate that one of my college friends always joked that his high school was designed by the same architect who designed San Quentin, and that it showed.

      • navigio 6 years ago6 years ago

        Why does that not surprise me. One thing I love doing when I’m in europe is taking pictures of schools just to show the contrast in the whole paradigm.

  5. Kim 6 years ago6 years ago

    This statement: The absences cost schools $1.4 billion in attendance funding, is misleading, I think. If there had been fewer truants, districts would have had higher ADA, that is true. But the pot of money to be distributed to districts based on ADA would have been the same size - so the same total amount of money would have been distributed to districts - perhaps in different proportions. The per pupil amount just would … Read More

    This statement:
    The absences cost schools $1.4 billion in attendance funding,

    is misleading, I think. If there had been fewer truants, districts would have had higher ADA, that is true. But the pot of money to be distributed to districts based on ADA would have been the same size – so the same total amount of money would have been distributed to districts – perhaps in different proportions. The per pupil amount just would have been lower. (this is under the old revenue limit method – but will remain the same under LCFF – the state can only give to districts the amount it has available)