Bill lays out new anti-truancy program

Bill lays out new anti-truancy program

(Calif.) After sitting idle for the better part of a year, a bill resurrected in January would set the ground rules for a new state program giving schools money to fight chronic attendance problems.

The funding comes in the form of savings to the state from a voter-approved prisoner-release program that freed thousands of low-level offenders and directed a portion of the money to schools.

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed $7.3 million in his 2016-17 budget to kick start the new Safe Neighborhood and Schools Planning Grants.

To be administered by the California Department of Education, the grant program is designed to “improve outcomes for public school pupils by reducing truancy and supporting pupils who are at risk of dropping out of school or are victims of crime,” according to SB 527, authored by Democratic Sen. Carol Liu of La Canada Flintridge.

Districts, charter schools and county offices of education would be eligible for funding if they submit a plan outlining their need to the CDE and commit to addressing the issue through their Local Control and Accountability Plans. Under the state’s education finance system, all districts are required to submit LCAPs that outline how school spending meets eight state priorities for improving student outcomes.

According to a Senate analysis of SB 527, the CDE has reported that students who are chronically absent in lower grades are much less likely to be proficient readers, and they also have higher levels of suspensions. Chronic absence in the sixth grade is the most predictive indicator that a student will not graduate from high school, the department said.

The bill calls for priority funding for LEAs that are located in communities with high crime rates, as determined by local crime statistics, or have high rates of any of the following, as determined by school-level data:

  • chronic absenteeism,
  • pupil suspension,
  • dropout rates in middle or high schools and foster youth.

According to the Senate analysis, a student who is absent from school without a valid excuse for more than 30 minutes on three days in a school year is considered a truant. In 2012-13, the CDE reported a truancy rate of 29.28 percent with 1.9 million students considered truants.

A 2010 California law defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the typical 180-day school year, the equivalent of about one month of school. Most states use a similar standard and researchers estimate that nationwide, as many as 7.5 million students a year are chronically absent. Chronic absenteeism includes excused and unexcused absences and out-of-school suspensions.

California is one of five states that does not keep a statewide tally of chronically absent students, according to a report released last year by the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, but officials believe the state’s chronic absenteeism rate at least matches the national average.

The grant program is a mandate of the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, enacted by Proposition 47 in 2014. The measure reduced the classification of many non-serious and nonviolent property and drug crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor and directed that the savings from the release of an estimated 10,000 inmates be distributed as follows: 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board; 25 percent to the California Department of Education and 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction.

The Legislative Analyst‘s Office released a report on the Implementation of Proposition 47 in February 2015. In the report, the LAO indicates that while the state savings that will result from Proposition 47 is subject to significant uncertainty, annual savings will likely range from $100 million to $200 million beginning in 2016-17.

California law requires all students between the ages of six and 18 to attend school full-time. The law also requires that parents or legal guardians be notified when their children have been classified as a truant and reminded of their obligation to make sure their children attend school.