Grants would support truancy intervention

Grants would support truancy intervention

(Calif.) A bill gaining support in the Legislature would create a new grant program to help schools battle chronic attendance problems in kindergarten through third grades.

Funding for the so-called Early Intervention Attendance grants would come from money the state is saving through its prisoner reduction program, and also a one-time allocation from Proposition 98 funds – the share of annual revenue constitutionally-guaranteed to schools.

“The return on this kind of a program is massive,” said Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, a Democrat from Richmond and author of AB 1014.

“A successful program is likely to result in more than doubling a district’s income. It pays for itself basically,” he said.

The intense focus on primary students comes on the heels of a 2014 report from Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office that only 17 percent of California’s chronically absent kindergartners and first graders read proficiently by third grade. Studies have repeatedly shown that students who do not read at grade level by then are four times more likely to drop out of school.

In addition to the toll truancy takes on human lives, schools lose millions of dollars in state aid due to student absences.

According to information from Thurmond’s office, in the 2010–11 school year alone, California districts lost $1.4 billion in average daily attendance funding because students weren’t in class. School districts have lost over $3.5 billion in ADA funding between the 2010–11 and 2013–14 school years.

Under AB 1014, which is scheduled to be heard tomorrow by the Senate Education Committee, schools would agree to track and report to the California Department of Education student attendance data, including tardiness, chronic absences and truancy. The CDE, responsible for administering the grant program, would be required to report that data to the Legislature. The data would be used to determine whether efforts undertaken by the schools to curb absences are working.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that focused attendance programs do work, and that they do offer a significant return on investment, according to the author’s office.

Berkeley Unified School District, located in Thurmond’s Assembly district, earlier this month was one of 11 districts recognized by the state as being a model for attendance improvement and dropout prevention. BUSD first launched its absence reduction program in 2009-10 at a cost of $100,000, according to Thurmond’s office. The following year, the district saw a $500,000 increase in its ADA.

The new grant program would be paid for with funds from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund, established by the passage of Proposition 47 last November. Prop. 47 changed a list of nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and allowed inmates already convicted of those felonies to have their sentences reduced.

Financial savings from the decreased inmate population were to be used for programs designed to keep people out of jail, such as school truancy and dropout prevention, victim and mental health services, and drug abuse treatment. A report issued in February by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Prop. 47 will save California $100 million to $200 million annually, beginning next year.

A member of Thurmond’s staff said it’s possible legislators could seek a one-time Prop. 98 allocation but that the fiscal details still need to be worked out in the Appropriations Committee if the bill moves on. Capitol insiders with knowledge of the negotiations say it has broad stakeholder support as well as the backing of Senate Education Committee chair Carol Liu, D-Pasadena.

There are some hurdles ahead, however, given Gov. Jerry Brown’s sensitivity to the creation of new education programs outside of his newly restructured school finance system, as well as placing overly burdensome data requirements on districts.

“We’re just trying to find a happy place between requiring data that is comprehensive enough to demonstrate the success of the program but not so onerous that it appears to be collecting data for data’s sake,” Thurmond said.

Among other things, AB 1014 would:

  • Establish a six-year pilot program with a three-year minimum grant;
  • Require a diverse pool of applicant schools from urban, rural and suburban areas;
  • Require a selection of applicant schools in each region that have the highest truancy rates;
  • Require schools to submit a report to the CDE at the end of the fifth school year following receipt of grant funds;
  • Require CDE to submit a report to the Legislature;
  • Clarify that the early intervention activities target K-3 pupils.

As written now, the bill specifies components that must be included in a school’s attendance program, such as establishing parent and outreach worker positions at the school site to monitor and assist families of children with ongoing attendance issues. The author’s office said language is likely to be amended making those components “permissive” rather than required.