Brown faces slew of attendance bills as legislative session closes

Brown faces slew of attendance bills as legislative session closes

(Calif.) Increasing attendance has been a major goal this legislative session as a handful of bills await Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature–including one to help schools address chronic absenteeism with grants created from annual prisoner reduction savings.

A second bill on the governor’s desk would require schools to accurately track pupil attendance, while a third would create more accountability for districts in addressing high chronic absenteeism rates, among other factors.

More than 6 million students missed at least 15 days of school in the United States in 2013-14, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And research shows that high rates of absenteeism can lower students’ academic achievement while increasing their risk of dropping out or becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

Assembly Bill 1014, by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, would designate 25 percent of the savings generated from Proposition 47–which decreased the prison population and the state costs associated by reducing penalties for certain nonviolent drug and property crimes–for attendance-boosting programs.

If signed, $9.9 million in Prop. 47 money would be available to schools as competitive grants this year, and those high rates of chronic absenteeism, out-of-school suspensions or crime rates among young people would be given priority.

Under the bill, schools would not be allowed to use grant money for on law enforcement activities, such as hiring personnel or purchasing equipment, in order to ensure students are less likely to be referred to juvenile courts.

AB 2548, authored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would require the State Board of Education to use data to support the various indicators that would be used to assess how well school performance.

Schools would be held accountable for addressing high rates of chronic absenteeism, among other measures, such as student achievement in English language arts, mathematics and science, school climate, and college and career readiness.

The SBE has sought to find multiple measures for evaluating student and school performance since 2012, but meeting the looming deadlines for adoption became more urgent with passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act by Congress late last year.

Co-sponsors of Webber’s bill, Children Now and Education Trust West, noted in written statements to the Legislature that the bill would align state and federal accountability requirements and avoid the sometimes conflicting aspects of past systems.

A third bill, AB 2815, authored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, would specify that schools are to “promote a culture of attendance,” and move to ensure that student attendance is accurately being tracked.

Schools would need to use the data form tracking students to raise awareness of chronic absenteeism, identify and address factors contributing to chronic absenteeism and habitual truancy, and ensure that students with poor attendance are identified as early as possible in order to provide support services and interventions.

O’Donnell’s office recommends a number of different means of supporting student attendance, including the promotion of co-curricular or extracurricular activities that increase a student’s feeling of connectedness to their school, recognizing those who achieve excellent attendance or demonstrate significant improvement, and collaborating with local organizations to ensure students are receiving medical, mental and oral health care services.

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