According to a report released this morning by the Attorney General of California, one of every four elementary school students in the state are truant every year. The state’s definition of truancy is three or more unexcused absence per school year, and the effects of these absences, especially among elementary school students, are profound.
Only 17 percent of students who were truant in kindergarten and first grade were reading at a third-grade level when they reached it, compared to 64 percent of students who regularly attended classes. By the time truant students reach middle school, they are often so far behind their peers that they must enter into a cycle of remedial education, which requires school districts already pressed for funding to hire additional teachers. The impact of truancy on individuals is great, but so too is the impact on the state, the report claims.
In a video that accompanied the report, Attorney General Kamala Harris said that “[t]his crisis is not only crippling for our economy, it is a basic threat to public safety.”
The report indicates that first graders who miss more than nine days are twice as likely to drop out of high school. The impact of this on the state is compound: first, elementary schools lose money, since state funds are dispersed according to attendance rates. The report estimates that California districts lost $1.4 billion due to truancy each year. The second impact that this has is on the quality of high school education, since the schools these truant first graders drop out of also lose money due to their falling attendance rates.
But the end cost to the state may be far greater. Eighty-two percent of California inmates are high school dropouts, and inmates cost the state money to arrest, prosecute, try, and eventually house. Even if they’re not incarcerated, dropouts are twice as likely to be on welfare. The end result, the report argues, is that dropouts cost the state $46.4 billion per year.
The report stresses that chronic truancy, especially at the elementary school level, is often an indication of a larger problem that effect students and parents alike: hunger, poverty, mental health issues, or substance abuse problems. The report recommends aggressively intervening — after the first unexcused absence — first through local School Attendance Review Boards and later, if necessary, through law enforcement.
Watch Attorney General Harris’s official statement, which accompanied the report, below.
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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