How to improve California's education system is a challenge that has long divided state and local elected officials, education advocates, teachers and parents. One thing is certain, however: No solution to our schools' problems will make an ounce of difference if students are out on the street or at home when they should be in class. Any attempt to turn around our troubled public school system must address the truancy problem.
Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris brought truancy into clear focus in 2013 with a report that found that about 1 million California elementary school students were truant in the 2012-13 school year. In Los Angeles County, 166,469 elementary school students were truant; that's more than 20% of those enrolled. Put another way, on any given day, 1 in 5 K-6 students are missing out on an education guaranteed by the state Constitution.
You might ask, what's significant about a few missed days of school to a third-grader? But the long-term ramifications are very serious. Children who are truant in elementary school are far less likely to graduate from high school, and by extension, more likely to end up unemployed and committing crimes. Indeed, state data show that 75% of California's prison inmates are high school dropouts.