By: Tony Thurmond
Attorney General Kamala Harris recently released a report on elementary school truancy, and the stats are troubling. The numbers tell the story – when kids skip school they are not only hurting themselves, they are hurting their communities and they are hurting the kids who are left back in school.
How could that be? Because funding for all kids in California is based on a calculation of Average Daily Attendance. So when children skips school, they miss out on vital lessons, and their whole school community misses out on vital funding.
As a former city council member in Richmond, I saw the direct correlation between truancy and crime. As a former school board member, I saw how we could improve funding by reducing truancy. And as a long-time advocate for children, I know that skipping just one lesson can keep kids falling further and further behind.
Elementary School Truancy Crisis Costs Billions
The AG’s report showed California’s truancy crisis costs school districts and the state billions of dollars each year – because there is a direct correlation between school attendance and funding as part of the state’s Local Control Funding Formula. Yes, billions.
In 2012-2013, one in five elementary school students were truant – nearly three quarters of a million kids in California alone – up 1.2% from the year before. And only 17% of chronically absent kindergarteners and first graders in California read proficiently by 3rd grade. Students who don’t read at a proficient level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school, and more likely to commit crimes and go to prison.
But high truancy rates and chronic absenteeism isn’t a crisis in just poor neighborhoods. It’s a crisis throughout California. See the map below:
There Are Solutions
The Attorney General has introduced a legislative package of four bills, which is a great start at moving our state forward and making sure all children get the education they need to develop into healthy, productive adults. Going further, we need to directly engage youth and their families around the importance of education.
While I was on the school board and city council, and in my capacity as a director of youth education programs at the Lincoln Child Center in Oakland, I have expanded programs that successfully reduced chronic absenteeism for more than 70% of youth served and led recent efforts that have reduced school suspensions by 27 percent.
A program I helped create called CEOYouth gives at-risk kids an opportunity to learn hard skills and valuable job training. When kids were engaged and motivated by what they were learning, we saw a remarkable increase in participation rates and attendance. These kids were actually excited to be involved, and these programs that we’ve implemented at the local level can serve as a model statewide.
Truly Engaging Our Kids
Attorney General Kamala Harris and I have worked together addressing these issues for many years – that’s one of the reasons she’s endorsing my campaign.
Together, we’ve seen firsthand the power of engaging kids after school and giving them powerful alternatives to a drugs, crime and street violence.
I know there is hope for every child because caring adults and government programs literally saved my life. If it weren’t for the mentors and great schools I went to growing up, who knows where I would be today. That’s why I’ve dedicated my life to serving and protecting kids and families who need help the most.
We have plenty of politicians who talk the talk. Enough with the rhetoric – we need leaders who understand that these kids need real engagement, real guidance. There is nothing more important to me than getting kids on the right track. That’s why as a member of the Assembly, I will make education and engaging youth my top priority.
How You Can Help with #EveryKidCounts
The Legislature has passed the Attorney General’s truancy package – four bills that will help reduce truancy and chronic absenteeism in our state – and Governor Brown has until September 30 to sign.
How can you help? Tell the Governor you support these bills. You can send a letter via email to [email protected] or fax (916) 558-3160. Please learn more about each of the bills and other ways you can help here.
I encourage you to read the full report here: https://oag.ca.gov/truancy/2014
Tony Thurmond is a former Richmond City Councilmember, West Contra Costa school board member and current director of youth programs at Lincoln Child Center in Oakland. Thurmond is a candidate for Assembly in District 15.