California Lawmakers Unveil Truancy Legislation

Each year, an estimated one million California elementary school students are truant, and 250,000 elementary school students miss 18 or more school days.

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris yesterday announced a package of legislation to help local school districts and communities address the state’s elementary school truancy crisis. Each year, an estimated one million elementary school students are truant, and 250,000 elementary school students miss 18 or more school days at a cost of $1.4 billion in lost funds to California school districts.

Joined by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, State Senator Bill Monning and Assemblymembers Raul Bocanegra, Rob Bonta, Joan Buchanan, Isadore Hall and Chris Holden, Harris announced her sponsorship of five bills that will help schools, parents and government effectively intervene when children are chronically absent, and improve local school districts’ and counties’ ability to track attendance patterns.

The legislation is intended to:
– Assist schools and counties as they work with parents to address the core reasons behind truancy and chronic absence.
– Provide local school districts and counties with tools to comply with attendance tracking requirements in the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), state truancy mandates and state and federal reporting requirements.
– Modernize state and local systems to track and prevent truancy and chronic absence.
– Ensure that schools, districts, counties and the state can evaluate the success of interventions to combat truancy and chronic absence.

“AB 1866 will allow educators and stakeholders to identify students at risk of becoming truants earlier in the process, which will allow preventative steps to be taken to ensure these students get back to school and back on track,” Assemblymember Bocanegra said in a statement.

Assemblymember Holden said that, “Second graders are missing school and arriving late for very different reasons than 11th graders. Requiring County Offices of Education to forward the complete reports to the Department of Education will allow the State to identify trends and find best practices to address this crisis.”

In School +On Track also made the point that elementary school truancy is at the root of the state’s chronic criminal justice problems. Missing large amounts of school is one of the strongest predictors of falling behind academically and dropping out, even in early grades. According to one study, students who missed 10% of their kindergarten and first grade years scored, on average, 60 points below similar students with good attendance on third-grade reading tests. And, students who don’t read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely not to receive a high school diploma than proficient readers, which puts them at risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of crime. An increase of graduation rates by just 10% would result in a 20% drop in violent crime, and prevent 500 murders and more than 20,000 aggravated assaults per year in California.

Annually, dropouts cost California taxpayers an estimated $46.4 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and lost taxes.

As the District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney General Harris started a citywide truancy initiative in 2006. Over a two-year period, then-District Attorney Harris’ initiative reduced truancy among elementary students in San Francisco by 23%, according to the San Francisco Unified School District.  The initiative also served as a model for SB 1317 (Leno), which defined “chronic truancy” for the first time under state law and established the initiative’s model of combining meaningful services with smart sanctions in the California Penal Code.  The bill was sponsored by then-District Attorney Harris and was enacted into law in 2010.

Attorney General Harris’ Truancy Legislation Package:

SENATE BILL 1107 – Mandated Annual Report Legislation
Author: Senator Bill Monning
Mandate that the California Attorney General issue an annual report on elementary school truancy and chronic absenteeism similar to 2013’s In School + On Track report. This will help track truancy and chronic absence rates and highlight effective programs to improve attendance across the state.

ASSEMBLY BILL 1866 – Statewide Attendance Data System
Author: Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra
Enhance the state Department of Education’s student record system to include fields on truancy and absenteeism. California is one of only four states in the country that does not collect student attendance data. This will allow local school districts to monitor and analyze attendance patterns, as required under the LCFF.

ASSEMBLY BILL 1672 – Enhanced SARB (Student Attendance Review Board) Reports

Author: Assemblymember Chris Holden
Require that local SARBs (School Attendance Review Boards) report annually on referral rates to county offices of education and expand these reports to include information on student enrollment, absence and truancy rates, district attorney referrals and SARB intervention outcomes. Current annual SARB reports provide minimal information about intervention outcomes, so it is difficult to get the full picture of SARB efforts around the state. This bill ensures schools, districts and counties can evaluate the success of truancy intervention efforts.

ASSEMBLY BILL 1643 – Mandatory SARBs
Author: Assemblymember Joan Buchanan
Require that every county create a SARB. Forty years ago, the legislature created SARBs in order to divert students who were having school attendance issues from the juvenile justice system. County SARBs are a great local tool to provide training, guidance and oversight to local SARBs within a county to ensure consistency and achievement of the SARB’s core mission: improved attendance.

ASSEMBLY BILL 2141 – District Attorney Referral Outcome Reports
Authors: Assemblymember Isadore Hall, Assemblymember Rob Bonta
Require that when a parent or student is referred to district attorney’s office or any other agency engaged in prosecution or charges are considered to enforce state school attendance laws, the prosecuting agency must provide a report on the outcome of the referral. This helps school officials determine which outcomes are effective and guarantees baseline information sharing between referring agencies and prosecutors.

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