By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/1oLJukt
California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks to the Los Angeles News Group Editorial Board at the Los Angeles Daily News on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. (Photos by Dean Musgrove/Los Angeles Daily News)
Posted: 07/29/14, 7:10 PM PDT :: California’s top law enforcement official, Attorney General Kamala Harris, explained her plans to curb crime by clamping down on school truancy Tuesday in an interview with the editorial board of the Los Angeles News Group, which includes the Daily News.
Persistent truancy, especially among elementary school children, puts kids on a path to failure, heightens their chances of dropping out of school and can lead to a life of encounters with law enforcement, either as victim or criminal, Harris said.
“It’s not only an issue in terms of the waste of human potential, but also the waste of taxpayer dollars on an issue that can be addressed and fixed, I believe,” Harris said.
Truancy has a direct effect on schools, she said, when districts lose out on collecting federal funding, which is based on attendance, she said. California’s school districts lose about $1.4 billion annually because of truancy, according to a 2013 report compiled by Harris’ department.
Locally, truancy in Los Angeles Unified has reached a record high, as 46.53 percent of students in the state’s largest school system missed class three or more times without an excuse in the 2012-13 school year, according to the most recent data reported to the California Department of Education.
Truancy among students in Los Angeles County’s other 86 school systems was 25.5 percent, while California’s average was 29.28 percent in 2012-13, according to the California Department of Education.
But it’s the most severe cases, instances of elementary school children missing more than 10 percent of the school year, that Harris said concerns her the most.
It’s not uncommon for poor families to frequently move or be unable to afford day care, she said. An 8-year-old will miss school to watch a 2-year-old sibling, because mom’s holding down two jobs and struggling to make ends meet, she said.
“People are transient,” Harris said. “They’re shuttling kids all over the place so they miss a lot of school and they just drop out.”
In an effort to focus on those kids, Harris is championing several bills that would enhance data on school attendance and track truant kids, including the outcomes of severe cases that are referred to prosecutors.
“If we reconfigure our priorities a bit on something like elementary school truancy, the return on our investment, I think, is going to be pretty substantial,” Harris said.