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State Truancy Crisis: 1 In 4 Elementary Students Missing School

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A new study released today by the state's attorney general says that more than 1 in 4 California elementary students are truant each year.

Nearly 1 million each year are missing more school than they should be, State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said in the first annual report on the subject, labeled, "Attorney General's 2013 Report on California's Elementary School Truancy & Absenteeism Crisis."

Harris writes, "California is facing an attendance crisis, with dire consequences for our economy, our safety, and our children. Truancy and chronic absence occurs in elementary schools across the state, at rates that are deeply troubling."

Among the statistics cited in the report:

  • In California last year, 1 million elementary school students were truant and 250,000 students missed 18 or more school days.
  • In some California elementary schools, 92 percent of students were truant last year.
  • California school districts are losing $1.4 billion in funding due to truant students.
  • The counties with the highest truancy rate, according to the report, are Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo and Calaveras, which averaged 30 percent last year.
  • Los Angeles County's rate was 20.5 percent, with about 166,000 truant elementary students.
  • 3 out of the 5 elementary campuses with truancy rates at 90 percent or higher were in the Pasadena Unified School District, where the overall truancy rate was 66 percent last year.
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The state defines truancy as "incurring three unexcused absences or tardies in excess of 30 minutes without a valid excuse during a school year." Students who are chronically truant are considered high risk for academic failure.
Harris writes, "The findings are stark. We are failing our children."

In L.A. County, the losses from truancy amount to $340 million, according to the report.

Harris said in the statement, "This crisis is not only crippling for our economy, it is a basic threat to public safety," citing that dropouts often resort to crime. "Annually, dropouts cost California taxpayers an estimated $46.4 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and lost taxes," she said.

When Harris began sending out notices to parents that they could face criminal charges if they don't send their children to school, truancy rates fell 40 percent, Special Assistant Attorney General Brian Nelson told the LA Times.

Debra Duardo, L.A. Unified's executive director of student health and human services, tells the Times that the district is focusing on more supportive approaches to help families struggling with poverty, homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse, the main causes of truancy.