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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Unveils 2015 Truancy Report: Progress Made but Truancy and Chronic Absence Persist at California Elementary Schools

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued her third annual statewide report on elementary school truancy and chronic absence in California, In School + On Track 2015: http://www.oag.ca.gov/truancy/2015. The report finds that, compared to last year, California still faces a crisis in school attendance: 230,000 California elementary school students are chronically absent – missing more than 10% of the school year – and more than 1 in 5 are truant, having three or more unexcused absences.  

The report also outlines significant progress made in the past year in increasing awareness of the importance of attendance within school districts, tracking attendance year over year, and rethinking discipline policies that remove students from the classroom.

“Elementary school truancy has sweeping implications for our state’s economy and public safety,” said Attorney General Harris. "When our youngest students are missing more than 10% of the school year, we know that they often fall behind and never catch up.  This report shows that we are making progress, but we must do more to keep our children in school.”

The new report, In School + On Track 2015, offers new insights and updated data on California’s truancy crisis, which is particularly stark in the earliest grades. According to the report, nearly 15% of kindergarteners are chronically absent (missing more than 10% of the school year) and the kindergarten truancy rate for the past year neared 30%. Racial disparities are alarming in these early grades: chronic absence rates for Native American and African American students were almost 30% in kindergarten.

These figures have long-term repercussions, as 83% percent of students who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade will not read proficiently in third grade and will therefore be four times more likely to drop out of high school. 

In addition, racial and income disparities persist beyond kindergarten and throughout elementary school: close to 20% of African American and Native American students are chronically absent, and over 75% of the students who are chronically absent are low-income.  School discipline policies also disproportionately affect students of color.  African American elementary school students are four times more likely to be suspended than white students.  Overall, elementary school students in California missed an estimated 110,000 days of school due to suspensions alone.

Since last year’s report was issued, however, school districts have made significant strides: 

  • Over 95% of districts reported that they have made changes to policies and programs to improve attendance, or plan to do so for  the 2015-2016 school year.
  • More than 60% of districts cited increased awareness as a reason for changes in their attendance programs.
  • There has been a 10% increase in districts collecting and monitoring attendance data longitudinally (year over year) since last year’s report (from 72% to 82%).
  • For the past two years, 25% of districts each year have changed policies so that students would miss less time in school for suspensions.

Additional information broken down by county is available under 2015 data here.

In School + On Track cites examples of successful advances in addressing our state’s elementary school attendance crisis, including intervening early, communicating more effectively with parents, addressing discipline policies that disproportionately affect students of color and remove students from the classroom, creating new public-private partnerships to support students and families, and using Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) to set clear goals to reduce truancy and chronic absenteeism.

Despite progress at the individual district level in monitoring and tracking attendance, the report points out that California still lacks a statewide longitudinal system for tracking student attendance and chronic absenteeism.

Attorney General Harris’ 2013 In School + On Track (https://oag.ca.gov/truancy/2013) report contained the first statewide statistics on California’s elementary school truancy crisis and directly linked public education and public safety. Students who finish third grade but are not at third grade reading level are statistically more likely to drop out of high school. Annually, dropouts cost California taxpayers an estimated $46.4 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and lost taxes. 

The 2014 In School + On Track report (https://oag.ca.gov/truancy/2014) released updated data and looked specifically at gaps in state infrastructure for collecting attendance information and disparities in student attendance and discipline by race, income, and other subgroups such as foster youth.

As District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney General Harris started a citywide elementary school truancy initiative in 2006.  In the course of investigating factors contributing to the city’s violent crime rate, she found that 94% of San Francisco homicide victims under age 25 were high school dropouts.  Then-District Attorney Harris formed a partnership with the school district to inform parents about their legal duty to ensure that their children attended school, provide parents of chronically truant students with wrap-around services and school-based mediation, and prosecute parents in the most severe cases where other interventions did not work.

The report is available in its entirety online at: https://oag.ca.gov/truancy/2015

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