Hoping to send a message to students and parents about education leading to success, California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Tuesday urged elementary school students to keep going to classes.
Harris urged students at Baldwin Hills Elementary School on Tuesday, the first day of classes for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"Your job is to come to school every day," Harris said.
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Harris spoke at the school about the package of five bills she is sponsoring which are meant to help prevent student absenteeism. The bills, if passed, will help schools collect data and developing tools to combat the truancy, which contributes to millions of dollars in losses to districts.
During the 2012-13 school year, Los Angeles Unified School District’s truancy rate was at nearly 47 percent, compared to a statewide total of 29 percent, according to a California Department of Education database.
The California education code states that a student is considered truant if he or she is absent or tardy by more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse on three occasions in a school year.
"Truancy is one of her platforms and one of our platforms," said Letitia Johnson-Davis, the principal of Baldwin Hills Elementary School.
Johnson-Davis said while her school does not have high rates of truancy, the problem disproportionately affects low-income and minority students.
"We know that our schools nationally have not met the needs of these traditionally underserved student populations," Johnson-Davis said.
A 2013 report by Harris, called "In School + On Track," found more than 250,000 elementary school students in the state were "chronically absent," meaning they missed 18 or more days of school.
Nationwide, about 1 in 10 kindergarten and first grade students miss a month of school due to absences.
The report also found that third-grade students who are chronically absent scored, on average, 60 points lower on reading tests.
The study also demonstrated the financial cost of absenteeism.
Over the 2010-11 school year Los Angeles County school districts lost an estimated $339 million due to students not showing up to class, according to data from the attorney general’s office.
Dropouts cost the state as a whole more than $40 billion, the report states.
"By mandating the annual tracking and reporting by the Attorney General, we will be able to offer local school districts additional tools in tackling this very complex issue," Senator Bill Monning, D-Carmel, the author of the bill, said in a statement.
Some of the other pieces of legislation sponsored by Harris involve making local attendance review boards mandatory and instituting a statewide attendance data system for students.
California is currently one of four states in the nation that does not require schools to gather and analyze attendance data, according to a study cited in the attorney general's report.
During her tenure as the District Attorney of San Francisco, Harris instituted a truancy prevention program in the city which she said cut absenteeism rates by 23 percent among elementary school students.