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Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris proposes new anti-truancy laws for California

Laws and LegislationCrime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemKamala D. HarrisJerry Brown

SACRAMENTO -- Warning that elementary school truancy in California has reached a crisis level, state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris and lawmakers on Monday proposed a package of bills aimed at improving the tracking of absenteeism and the evaluation and use of measures to keep kids in school.

Harris estimated that 1 million elementary school students are truant each year and 250,000 of them miss 18 or more school days costing school districts $1.4 billion. In all, 30% of elementary school students were truant during the 2012-2013 school year, she said.

“California’s Constitution guarantees our children the right to an education, yet our elementary schools face a truancy crisis,” Harris said. “When children in kindergarten through sixth grade miss school, they fall behind and too many never catch up.’’

A child is truant after missing or being tardy by more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse on three occasions during a school year. Missing classes in elementary school sets the stage for problems later, Harris said.

Students who don’t read at grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to be high school dropouts, she said. And 82% of the prison inmates in the United States are high-school dropouts, she said.

“There is a direct match between public education and public safety,” Harris said at a Capitol news conference attended by the half-dozen authors of the bill package.

The legislation implements recommendations from a report last year by Harris’ office that found that the state, counties and schools are not adequately tracking truancy and the reasons students are missing schools.

One bill would require the attorney general’s office to annually report on elementary school truancy and help identify which school districts have programs that are effective at reducing absences. Another measure would update the state Department of Education student record system to include information on truancy and absenteeism.

A third proposal would require that every county create a School Attendance Review Board, which has been effective in diverting students from the juvenile justice system by identifying issues causing students to miss schools and finding solutions. Another bill would require the boards to annually report how many students they serve and the success rates so counties and states can evaluate which schools’ programs are most effective.

A fifth bill would require prosecutors to provide reports on the outcomes of referrals to truancy prevention programs.

“Stemming the tide of truancy is a critical component to disrupt the school to prison pipeline,” said Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), the author of one of the measures, during the news conference.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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