CA lawmakers, AG attack truancy epidemic

CA lawmakers, AG attack truancy epidemic

(Calif.) In a major effort to crack down on K-12 truancy, key parts of a package of bills – brought forward by Attorney General Kamala Harris – won passage Wednesday from an Assembly education panel.

Among the proposals is legislation that would require the state to collect student attendance data and go after parents who aren’t making sure their kids go to school. Another would strengthen the oversight of local School Attendance Review Boards as well as promote lines of communication and data sharing between educational, social and juvenile justice agencies.

“Chronic absence from school, even in primary grades, is one of the most accurate predictors of later high school dropout,” said Los Angeles Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, author of AB 1866, which, among other things, would require the California Department of Education to collect and report through its electronic data system rates of absenteeism as well as truancy – both chronic and habitual.

“Dropping out has enormous consequences, as we know, for the individual, the community and society,” Bocanegra told the Assembly education committee. “Almost 82 percent of prisoners in the United States are high school dropouts. School districts lose approximately $1.4 billion per year by failing to get students to school, and annually drop outs cost California taxpayers an estimated $46 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and taxes.”

The truancy bills follow a report issued by the Attorney General’s office last fall that found one out of every four California elementary school students – nearly 1 million total – are truant each year, prompting Harris to declare an “attendance crisis” that she said jeopardizes students’ academic futures and deprives schools of much needed funding.

While schools track the attendance of their students, California is one of only four states that do not collect individualized student attendance records at the state level.

This lack of recording, lawmakers and advocates said on Wednesday, poses a significant challenge to early identification of and intervention for students with a pattern of poor school attendance.

Two other related bills moved by the committee were AB 1672, by Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, and AB 2141, by Isadore Hall III, D-Compton.

Hall’s bill would require any state or local agency involved in a truancy-related mediation or prosecution with a pupil or a pupil’s parent or legal guardian to provide the outcome of each referral back to the agency that made the referral, thereby strengthening the enforcement process.

AB 2141 also establishes extensive procedures for monitoring and enforcement action against habitually truant students and their parents, including, as a last resort, the arrest or custody assumption of a minor found away from home and absent from school without a valid excuse.

Holden’s bill, he said, would “strengthen one of our best tools against truancy – the School Attendance Review Board” by increasing their accountability for reporting additional information, such as the number of students referred to them, how the student’s issues were addressed and follow-up on how the student is performing after the intervention. AB 1672 would also require schools to disaggregate attendance data by student sub-groups.

School Attendance Review Boards, or SARBs as they are also known, were created under 1972 legislation and are composed of representatives from various youth-serving agencies to help truant students and their parents or guardians solve school attendance and conduct problems through the use of available school and community resources. County SARBs are convened by the county superintendent at the beginning of each school year.

A fourth bill in Harris’ truancy package, AB 1643, authored by Assembly education chair Joan Buchanan, would require that any county currently without one create a SARB.

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