Bill signing creates big anti-truancy program

Bill signing creates big anti-truancy program

(Calif.) In one of the largest commitments nationally to reducing chronic absenteeism, California lawmakers will provide $27 million this fiscal year to local educational agencies in a competitive grant program expected to be operational by spring.

Budget action back in June along with the governor’s signature on legislation last month created the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund, which will emphasize early intervention and evidence-based attendance strategies aimed both at better attendance and a reduction of student suspensions.

“We’re thrilled that schools will have this opportunity to invest in the practices that will improve attendance and implement restorative justice programs,” said Brad Strong, senior director of education policy at Children Now. “This will help reduce the pipeline-to-prison.”

Funding for the program started with a 2014 voter initiative that reduced the penalties for some non-violent and non-serious drug and property crimes. Existing law also established that 25 percent of the savings from that measure were to be used to reduce truancy and support students at risk of dropping out.

Under a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown late last month, the California Department of Education has been charged with administrating the grants and with helping LEAs identify evidence-based, non-punitive programs and practices that will support better attendance.

Although the CDE will be determining which LEAs receive grants and for how much – lawmakers required the application process take into account the number of students that would be served, school and student needs – especially for small school districts.

Use of the grant money is fairly flexible, according to a legislative analysis, as long as the programs and services funded are aligned with the goals of a district’s Local Control Accountability Plan.

The bill authorizes creation of community schools, for instance, as well as implementation of restorative justice practices to reduce referrals of students to law enforcement agencies. The law specifically notes the money can be used to implement “activities or programs to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism, including but not limited to, early warning systems or early intervention programs.”

Priority will be given to LEAs with high rates of chronic absenteeism, out-of-school suspensions or dropouts either within the general population or for a significant student subgroup. A high-rate is defined as being above the state average.

The grants are for three years but also have a condition that the receiving districts provide a 20 percent match of the total award. Strong pointed out that districts can use their Local Control Funding Formula money to provide the needed match.

LEAs that receive the money must also provide an evaluation report to its governing board, the county board of education and the CDE. The report needs to include the results of the activities it undertakes with the grant funds.

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