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Truancy costs schools $21 Million

Truancy costs schools $21 Million

One or two unexcused absences seems like no big deal, but when you add up the numbers the amount of funds being lost per student is astronomical. A recent report released by the Tulare County Grand Jury revealed that in 2012-2013, student absences from school resulted in the loss of $21 million in the form of Average Daily Attendance (ADA) payments.

The Grand Jury investigated this issue due to the fact that each of the State’s 58 counties are adversely affected by student absenteeism. California compulsory education law LCAP discusses new ways for parents to engage in decision making. With the new Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) districts are now mandated to establish goals for improving student attendance and reducing chronic absences/truancy in an effort to save themselves from losing funds.

In 1974, Legislature was enacted in the form of California Education Code 48325 to enhance the enforcement of the compulsory education laws. In addition to state enforced truancy codes, districts formed School Attendance Review Boards (SARB) to address attendance issues. SARBs are complied of representatives from various youth-servicing agencies, to help truant or non compliant students and their parents or guardians solve school attendance and behavior problems through the use of resources.

In the Tulare County public education system there were 46 school districts, providing educational opportunities to 101,117 students from Kindergarten – 12th grade, in the 2012-2013 school year. Public education funding is allocated to districts according to complex formulas which are based on the ADA of each district. Maximizing attendance and/or minimizing absenteeism are important to the fiscal well-being of each district.

In addition to a loss of funding, research indicates there is a direct correlation between chronic absenteeism and student failure to keep pace academically as well the drop out rate. Research indicates that the negative impacts of truancy falls on disadvantaged children disproportionately. This worsens the problem to Tulare County schools in light of the socio-economic conditions existing throughout the county.

Woodlake Unified School District, Lindsay Unified School District and Strathmore Union Elementary all revealed low truancy rates ranging between 3.18 % and 17.24%. Data was not available for Exeter Unified School District. Farmersville Unified School District was listed as one of the school districts with a high truancy rate, 31.48%.

According to Superintendent Ofelia Ceja-Lariviere the worse cases of truancy are found in the TK-K grades where attendance is not mandatory and SARB does not apply. Ceja-Lariviere agrees with the Grand Jury that parent education is key to solving this issue. As well, school districts must recruit the assistance of the DA’s office. Ceja-Lariviere shared that she had great success with bringing down truancy rates at the last school district she worked at because of the involvement with the county DA’s office. “When I sent out truancy letters I used the DA’s letterhead. We would get great turn outs from parents. It was standing room only.” Ceja-Lariviere went onto say that had it not been for the support from her local DA’s office, the district would not have been as successful at lowering truancy rates.

The Grand Jury found a number of factors that point to the high truancy rate found in Tulare County. Currently, the DA’s office does not practice any outreach programs to educate students and parents on SARB laws, nor do they participate in organizations’ or planning of truancy preventions. According the Grand Jury report there were 720 SARB cases filed with the DA from 2012-2014 school years. A superior court judge presides over all SARB cases, which are considered to be a civil infraction with the following fines: 1st fine: $150, 2nd fine: $250, 3rd fine: and all successive fines – $500 for each school day missed. But, there are not any successive 3rd day fines due to the SARB timeframe within a school year.

The Grand Jury also found that some school districts do not have alternative programs in place to recover revenues for student absences. And nearly all school districts are not including Probation and Office of District Attorney staff in their SARB committee meetings.

The grand jury recommended that both school districts and the office of the district attorney should develop an action plan to educate students and inform parents of resources and the consequences parents face if they violate California Truancy Laws. The Grand Jury also stated that the DA’s office should, “consistently use their authority and discretion to increase pressure on parents/guardians to fulfill their legal obligations related to school attendance.”

According to the state of California truancy is defined as, “Any students missing more than 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse three times during the school year”; furthermore, Education Code 48325 provides several organizational structures for SARB at the local and county level to create a safety net for students with persistent attendance or behavior problems.

Together, school district and the office of the district attorney are sanctioned to handle truancy issues. Under penal code 270.1 the district attorney may exercise his or her authority to charge the parent of a chronically truant student with a criminal misdemeanor, if the guardian has failed to reasonably supervise and encourage the child’s attendance.

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