New state legislation that would standardize public school attendance records and track truancy interventions was announced by California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Monday. Her office estimates 1 million elementary students were truant at least one day last school year, costing schools $1.4 billion in lost funds.
"Let's track and figure out where are kids are," Harris said. "And, when they are not in school, it then begs that question, 'What's going on?'"
The bill package does not mandate nor fund interventions, such as transportation assistance or childcare services. It only requires that records of such interventions be kept.
According to to the bills' supporters, California is one of only four states in the country that does not collect student attendance data. AB 1866 would mandate the California Department of Education begin keeping records of absenteeism and truancy, and SB 1107 would require the Attorney General to submit an annual report as Harris began doing last year.
Harris found Los Angeles County to have a truancy rate of 20.5 percent among elementary school students, almost double that of neighboring Orange County, where 12.3 percent of those children have three unexcused absences for at least part of a day.
Calaveras County has the highest rate of truancy at 31.3 percent, and Yuba County has the lowest at 4.9 percent.
Records would also be kept by a Student Attendance Review Board — a body that AB 1643 requires every county to create. Under AB 1672, the review boards would also inventory district attorney referrals and intervention outcomes with the hope that best practices will emerge.
Assemblyman Isadore Hall, who represents areas of South Los Angeles, Watts, Compton and Carson, said the intent of the legislation is not to criminalize students, but to "communicate with our local officials [the] best patterns and ways to keep them in school and make them more successful."
Hall authored AB 2141, mandating that truancy cases referred to the district attorney are followed up with an outcome report. Supporters of the measure say it will work to help "school officials determine which outcomes are effective and guarantees baseline information sharing between referring agencies and prosecutors."