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Lawmakers Look for Solutions to California Truancy Epidemic

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April 25, 2014

More than 1.8 million California school students were truant from their schools in 2011-2012 - nearly 30 percent of all public school students. Eighty three thousand elementary school students in the state risk academic failure by being chronically truant, missing more than 10 percent of the school year.

It’s a situation that has lawmakers pondering how to lower that rate.

Truancy is defined as being absent from school without a valid excuse for more than thirty minutes during the school day on three occasions in one school year. It’s a statistic that rose significantly with budget cuts during the state’s fiscal crisis.

In Los Angeles Unified School District, for instance, truancy rate rose from 28 percent in the 2009-2010 school year to 43 percent in 2012, the same time attendance counselors were reduced by 30 percent.

And it has an impact on a child’s future.

  • A study of California children showed only 17 percent of chronically truant first graders read at their grade level in third grade, versus 64 percent of students with regular attendance.
  • Students not reading at their grade level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. High school dropouts are 2.5 times more likely to be on welfare.  
  • Each additional school day missed over five days per school year means a seven percent decrease in the likelihood a low-income urban elementary school student will graduate from high school.
  • Annually, truancy costs California $1.4 billion from lost educational funding.
  • Long term, the social and economic impact of truancy annually costs the state $46.4 billion from incarceration, lost economic productivity and diminished tax revenues.

Currently, a variety of bills in the Assembly and Senate propose data collection on state truancy statistics, as California is one of only four states without collaborative statewide data compilation. The expressed hope of the authors is not to generate reports, but identify best practices that can be shared statewide to lower truancy rates. Additional provisions would expand the use of school attendance review boards, to keep truant youth out of the juvenile justice system. This will help reduce the punitive nature of truancy, while providing resources and a supportive environment to encourage regular school attendance.

New programs might also be implemented to help prioritize getting children, especially young children to school daily and on time. Awareness and attentiveness to address the state’s truancy crisis will improve social, economic and public safety factors to enhance the common good in California.