California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris recently unveiled the first state-wide statistics on California’s truancy crisis, which reveal that, last year alone, 1 million elementary school students were truant and 250,000 elementary school students missed 18 or more school days at a cost of $1.4 billion in lost funds to California school districts.
The findings are part of a report, In School and On Track, issued by Harris in Los Angeles where statewide education, public policy and law enforcement leaders were convened to discuss this crisis and identify concrete solutions. “The California Constitution guarantees every child the right to an education, yet we are failing our youngest children, as early as kindergarten,” Harris said. “These are children as young as five-years old who are out of school, falling behind, and too many of them never catch up. This crisis is not only crippling for our economy, it is a basic threat to public safety. It’s time for accountability and to craft real solutions at every level - from parents to school districts, to law enforcement - to solve this problem.”
According to the report, elementary school truancy is at the root of the state’s chronic criminal justice problems. According to the report, missing large amounts of school is one of the strongest predictors of dropping-out, even more so than suspensions or test scores. Annually, dropouts cost California taxpayers an estimated $46.4 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and lost taxes.
Key Findings from In School and On Track:
Solutions from In School and On Track:
Harris was joined at the symposium by: Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Compton City Mayor Aja Brown, Dr. Robert Ross, president & CEO of the California Endowment, Tom Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works.
The California Attorney General’s office will issue the report annually. The office’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section spent 7 months researching this crisis and convening stakeholders to devise solutions.
As the District Attorney of San Francisco, 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.
Harris’ 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:https://oag.ca.gov/truancy