Frequent absences from school undermines student education - and hurts school district coffers. County officials drew attention to the problem Tuesday by lauding school districts that are turning around high truancy rates.
Baldwin Park Unified, in the San Gabriel Valley, is one success story. In the last few years, the district has raised attendance about 10 percent through robo-calls to alert parents when their child has missed school and by assigning police officers to all schools to meet with parents whose kids weren’t showing up.
The district's attendance rate was an impressive 96 percent last year. The goal this year is 97 percent.
"If we raised our percentage up to 97.5 percent, the district would get about additional $1 million from the state of California to support programs and teachers," said Assistant Superintendent Christine Dennis.
That’s because the state pays schools per student, per day of instruction. Unless a child is sick or the absence is otherwise excused, the state won’t pay for missed school days.
A spokesman for the L.A. County Office of Education said one out of every three students countywide was truant last year - meaning they racked up three or more unexcused absences.
The county said 25 school districts have signed on to its effort to combat truancy. It calls for offering truants help and incentives to come to school. Districts also will reward and give special recognition to students who go to school every day.
Centinela Valley Unified raised its attendance rate from 86 percent in 2008 to 92% last year. That change has come about because administrators are replacing punishment with counseling, said assistant superintendent Allan Mucerino.
He said campuses have changed the culture. "The message that 'you are welcome' is loud and clear,' " he said.