Chronic absenteeism bill faces veto threat

August 28, 2014

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Legislation that would make it easier for the state and school districts to track chronic absenteeism, an early indicator of students at risk of dropping out, will soon reach Gov. Jerry Brown, where it faces an uncertain fate.

Assembly Bill 1866, by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), would require the state student data system, known as CALPADS, to add reports on chronic absenteeism using attendance data on individual students that districts would upload. Everyone agrees that it’s important to know which students are regularly absent, said Brian Lee, state director of the non-profit group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California. Districts are required to set goals to reduce chronic absenteeism as part of their Local Control Accountability and Plans, the budget and academic improvement plans that districts must write. But an analysis by Lee’s group and Children Now of 80 districts’ recently completed LCAPs revealed that only 18 percent included data on it and close to half either didn’t mention chronic absenteeism or made only vague references to it, according to a summary of the analysis.

All districts must keep track of absences, but many don’t compile the data on chronic absenteeism. Uploading individual attendance data to CALPADS, either at the end of the year or more frequently –  the state would determine the timing – would make it easier to generate district reports, which the state would make public on DataQuest and EdData, says Brad Strong, senior director of education policy for Children Now.

Chronic absenteeism applies to students who are absent 10 percent or more school days per year (18 days for a standard year), including excused absences, suspensions and unexcused absences. An estimated one-quarter million elementary school children in California are chronically absent, according to a report in 2013by state Attorney General Kamala Harris. Truancy applies to students who are absent three full days or absent more than a 30-minute period on three occasions in a school year without a valid excuse. Some districts confused the two on their LCAPs, officials from county education offices said.

An analysis by the Senate Appropriations Committee estimated that AB 1866 would add $500,000 in annual costs to operate CALPADS and require more than $1 million in one-time costs for districts to modify their systems. The Department of Finance, in registering its opposition to the bill, estimated the combination of one-time and ongoing expenses to be much greater: between $2.5 million and $75 million in state-mandated costs.

The bill runs contrary to the Brown administration’s view of CALPADS,  the Department of Finance said. “CALPADS was implemented to meet federal requirements,” and the administration, in a desire “to minimize costs,” doesn’t intend to expand the data system beyond that purpose, the department’s analysis of the bill said. Districts already have a financial incentive to reduce absenteeism, because state revenues are based on student attendance, the department said. And they could collect chronic absenteeism data on their own. Sponsors counter that using CALPADS is a more efficient way to do so.

Harris included the bill as part of her anti-truancy initiative. The bill, awaiting final approval this week, has received strong support in the Legislature. If AB 1866 becomes law, school districts would be able to address chronic absenteeism in their accountability plans as the state law creating the LCAP intended, Lee said.


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