Lawmakers getting serious about improving attendance

Lawmakers getting serious about improving attendance

(Calif.) Some of the savings generated from a voter initiative to reduce California’s prison population would be used to help keep at-risk kids in school, under a bill pending in the Legislature.

Assembly Bill 1014, authored by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, would designate 25 percent of the annual prisoner reduction savings to be offered as grants to local educational agencies for improving schools with high rates of chronic absenteeism, out-of-school suspensions or dropouts.

More than 6 million students in the United States missed at least 15 days of school in 2013-14, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Numerous reports show that chronic absenteeism can lower students’ academic achievement and increases their risk of dropping out.

Younger students may miss school when parents pull them out for vacations, while others may fall ill for extended periods. As they age, kids may have to work in order to help support their family, skip class or be suspended and become involved with the juvenile justice system.

The money became available following the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014, which reduced penalties for certain nonviolent drug and property crimes in order to decrease the prison population and the state costs associated.

If adopted, Thurmond’s bill would provide $9.9 million in Prop. 47 money this year for attendance-related activities along with an additional $18 million in one-time Proposition 98 funds.

The grants would be competitively awarded, with districts that have high rates of chronic absenteeism, out-of-school suspensions or high crime rates among young people given priority. There is a requirement that districts come up with a 20 percent local match.

In an effort to ensure students are less likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system, grant money could not be spent on law enforcement activities, such as hiring personnel or purchasing equipment.

AB 1014 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 1 when the Legislature reconvenes.

According to Robert Oakes, spokesperson for the California Department of Education, while the CDE does not have a formal position on the bill, targeting chronic absenteeism, particularly in disadvantaged communities, remains one of the state’s key goals.

“Simply put, students need to be in school and in class to learn,” Oakes said in an email. “The [d]epartment will continue working with all concerned parties to track absenteeism, improve attendance, and help all students succeed on their way to 21st century careers and college.”

According to Thurmond’s office, California school districts lost more than $3.5 billion in average daily attendance funding between 2010 and 2014 due to student absences. Additionally, reports issued by the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in recent years highlighted troubling outcomes for regularly truant students.

Legislators have since focused their efforts on attendance measures.

 Multiple bills will be up for consideration when the Legislature returns next month:

  • AB 2815 specifies that schools are to “promote a culture of attendance” and accurately track pupil attendance
  • AB 2548 would, among other things, create more accountability for school districts in addressing high chronic absenteeism rates
  • Senate Bill 1014, which would allow student parents to take parental leave without the time counting against a district’s ADA.

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