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Signs of Progress & Return on Investments in
Improving Attendance

Attorney General Harris interviewed by reporters

Investments of time and resources into reducing elementary school truancy and chronic absence make financial sense for school districts and the state. But, most importantly, they have the potential to change the life trajectories of California’s elementary school students.

In this chapter, we highlight signs of progress in our collective efforts to improve attendance statewide and present districts’ reports of the financial return on their investments in attendance programs.

Signs of Progress

Despite the enormous need for continued upgrades, improvements, and innovation in our state’s systems for defining, tracking and responding to elementary absenteeism, there are also encouraging signs of progress in our state. School districts report significant improvements to their efforts to improve attendance during the 2013-2014 school year, as well as planned improvements for the 2014-2015 school year. These efforts include:

  • Reviewing attendance data more frequently
  • Recognizing students/schools for improved attendance rates
  • Changing discipline policies so that students do not miss as much school for suspensions or reducing the number of suspensions in their district
  • Collecting and analyzing data on the number of students who are chronically absent
  • Making improvements to their truancy notification process; and
  • Identifying and reaching out to chronically absent students

Changes to Attendance Programs and Policies Change for 2013-2014 Change for 2014-2015
  # of Responses # of Responses
Change discipline policies so students don’t miss as much school for suspensions or reducing the number of suspensions 48 20
Collect and analyze data on the number of students who are chronically absent 42 21
Identify and reach out to chronically absent students 38 20
Review attendance data more frequently 35 47
Recognize students/schools for improved attendance rates 35 35
Make improvements to our truancy notification process 35 25
Create a partnership with the district attorney's office/th> 28 9
Recognize students/schools with the highest attendance rates 27 26
Collect data on excused absences 27 17
Launch an attendance awareness campaign 25 32
Send excused absence notifications 23 9
Create new partnerships with local agencies and/or nonprofits that can help to address barriers to attendance 23 29
Improve our truancy intervention programs 22 38
Allocate more money to prevention and intervention strategies 20 53
Create incentives for schools to raise their attendance rates 16 26
Create a local SARB 16 10
Require schools to establish teams to monitor and address poor student attendance 15 23
Stop counting suspensions as unexcused absences 10 14

When asked why districts plan to make or have already made these changes, school districts cited increased awareness of attendance issues, creation of their Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP), and In School + On Track 2013 as the three main catalysts behind their efforts. These responses show the positive impact that even modest changes in policy and other statewide actions can have on local policies and practices to improve attendance.

"Our district plans on tracking truancy and chronic absenteeism rates for specific groups of at-risk students (Foster Youth, FRPM students, Homeless and English Learners) on a monthly basis. We haven't monitored attendance rates for these groups in the past and feel like it will be a good start in identifying who our truant and chronically absent students are."

- Survey response indicating an increased focus on identifying truancy and chronic absence and improving attendance for at-risk students

FINDING: SCHOOL DISTRICTS HAVE MADE OR PLAN TO MAKE SIGNIFICANT CHANGES TO THEIR ATTENDANCE POLICIES AND PROGRAMS SINCE LAST YEAR’S REPORT.

Return on Investment

A successful attendance initiative gives the school, district or county a return on its investment in several ways. Beyond the effects on student achievement, long-term crime reduction, and economic development, increasing attendance leads directly to increased funding for schools because the majority of district and county funds provided by the state are based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA).

“Beyond parent conferences and other attendance/truancy intervention . . . school site administrators and office staff worked hard to re-establish an internally coordinated, district Saturday School Attendance Recovery Program at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year. The fifteen participating schools recovered 12,402 absences and generated a total of $395,782.02. Most impressive is that in the last three school years since reestablishing an internally run Saturday School Program, the district has recouped approximately 33,083 student absences, which helps us to close the achievement gap for those students who miss school. An additional bonus is that it equates to just over $955,900 in ADA funding.”

Our 2014 school survey asked district leaders to estimate their investments in truancy and chronic absence reduction and the financial return, if any, of those investments. Investments in improving attendance reported by school districts ranged from zero to just under $1 million dollars. These investments took a variety of forms, including incentives for improving attendance, attendance clerk salaries, and transportation services. The majority of districts were able to spend a modest amount on attendance improvement programs that produced a larger return on their investment.

Approximate Amount Spent on Truancy Prevention Annually Number of Districts/Schools
Under $10,000 29
$10,000-$50,000 22
$50,001-$100,000 7
$100,001-$500,000 7
$500,001-$1 million 3
More than $1 million 0
No Money Spent 19
Unknown 27
TOTAL 114

A school district located in the San Gabriel Valley stated that annually they spend “About $300,000, including the two foster, homeless student support positions,” and have seen “a 1% overall increase in daily attendance over the past few years, which translates to about $500,000 in additional ADA funding.”

Even with modest investments in improving attendance, school districts overwhelmingly reported that their funding has increased due to improved school attendance. Gains reported ranged from $1,000 to $1 million in additional funding as a direct result of their initiatives. One school district reported that its recent attendance campaign increased the district’s funding by $1.3 million. Overall, of the districts who specified dollar amounts in the survey, the average return on investments in attendance was $339,000.

Approximate Increased Funding Due to Truancy Prevention Initiatives (ROI) Number of Districts/Schools
Under $10,000 1
$10,000-$50,000 1
$50,001-$100,000 -
$100,001-$500,000 7
$500,001-$1 million 2
More than $1 million 1
Unspecified Increased Funding 35
Funds Not Increased 14 (Note: some districts broke even with return, had increased ADA but decreased enrollment, or explained that their programs were just starting up and they expected returns next year)
Unknown 21
TOTAL 82

FINDING: MILLIONS OF DOLLARS HAVE BEEN RECOVERED BY CALIFORNIA SCHOOL DISTRICTS DUE TO EFFORTS TO IMPROVE ATTENDANCE.

Chapter 4
Prevention & Intervention Efforts
Appendix