Report: California Elementary School Truancy Crisis Persists, New Research Shows Racial, Income Disparities

Friday, September 12, 2014
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LOS ANGELES - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued the second annual report on elementary school truancy in the state which reveals that the truancy crisis in California continues. The report provides new research on how students of color and students from low-income families are missing a disproportionate amount of school each year.

Attorney General Harris’ second annual report, In School + On Track 2014, outlines recommendations to reduce state truancy rates. These recommendations were put into action in the Every Kid Counts legislative package ( sponsored by the Attorney General that passed the state legislature and currently awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.

"California elementary school students continue to miss school at unacceptably high rates," Attorney General Harris said. "Improvements in education policy are moot if students are not in class. California needs common sense solutions that help parents and educators reduce elementary school truancy. The Every Kid Counts legislative package helps us get this done."

Information broken down by school district and county is available here:

The report contains key updates and new research on income and racial disparities, including:

  • A quarter of a million elementary school students in California missed 10% or more of the 2013-2014 school year.
  • Over the last three years, school districts have lost over $3.5 billion directly from student absences.
  • 1 in 10 school districts reported they do not know their chronic absence rate for the 2013-2014 school year.
  • Almost 90% of the elementary students who are missing over a month of school per year are from low-income families.
  • More than 1 in 5 African American students is chronically absent which is more than double the average for white students.
  • African American elementary school students are chronically truant at nearly 4xs the rate of all students.

If signed into law, Attorney General Harris’ legislation will:

  • Help schools and counties work with parents to address the core reasons behind truancy and chronic absence.
  • Give local school districts and counties tools to comply with attendance tracking requirements in the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), state truancy mandates and state and federal reporting requirements.
  • Modernize state and local systems to track and prevent truancy and chronic absence.
  • Ensure that schools, districts, counties and the state can evaluate the success of interventions to combat truancy and chronic absence.

 “California is investing billions of dollars to help low income, English learner, foster and disabled students succeed,” said Assemblymember Isadore Hall, III. “But students cannot succeed if they are not in the classroom. I am honored to author AB 2141 and to join Attorney General Kamala D. Harris in helping schools and school districts focus its resources on developing effective truancy prevention and intervention strategies. AB 2141 is a common sense measure that will help keep our students off the street and in the classroom. I urge the Governor to sign AB 2141 and all of the Attorney General’s truancy reduction bills into law.”

“I applaud Attorney General Kamala Harris for tackling the issue of truancy and dropout rates head on,” said Assemblymember Chris Holden. “One of my goals is to keep children in the classroom and out of the courtroom, which is why I was happy to join with the Attorney General in crafting legislation to increase accountability for school attendance review boards in order to make them more effective. The measure, now awaiting the Governor’s signature, will show on the district and state level how large the truancy problem is and how we are addressing it. With this slate of bills we are not putting more students in the juvenile justice system, but inviting the community to intervene before they end up in the penal system.” 

“Attorney General Harris' report is another profound testament to the need for my Assembly Bill 1866, which is currently awaiting the Governor's signature,” said Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra. “By creating precise and longitudinal records of student attendance statewide, this measure will empower educators to detect at-risk students early and develop effective intervention programs for this population. AB 1866 is the first integral step to solving California's attendance crisis and the negative outcomes that ensue.”

"I applaud Attorney General Kamala Harris' commitment to shining the light on the problem of truancy and her work in San Francisco and Sacramento to keep children in school, on track, and ready to graduate,” said Assemblymember Joan Buchanan  “Their future and our future depends on every student graduating college and career ready."

“The findings of this report are alarming and should serve as a wake up call for elected leaders, school districts and California families,” said Senator Ricardo Lara. “Latinos are the majority in California so when 1 in 5 of Latino kids are chronically absent, we have a problem. We must begin addressing this crisis because our state's success is tied to the success of all students.”

Attorney General Harris’ 2013 In School + Track ( report contained the first statewide statistics on California’s elementary school truancy crisis. The report showed the direct link between public education and public safety. Students who reach 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.

As the District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney General Harris started a citywide 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 that they had a 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.

Over a two-year period, then-District Attorney Harris’s initiative reduced truancy among elementary students in San Francisco by 23%, according to the San Francisco Unified School District.  The initiative also served as a model for SB 1317 (Leno), which defined “chronic truancy” for the first time under state law and established the initiative’s model of combining meaningful services with smart sanctions in the California Penal Code.  The bill was sponsored by then-District Attorney Harris and was enacted in law in 2010.

The report is available in its entirety online at:

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