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Truancy takes bigger toll on Black families

By Freddie Allen/NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent
On September 15, 2015

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Truancy among Black students has far-ranging consequences, not just as a predictor for low academic achievement, but also for the long-term cost to American taxpayers, according to a new report by the Center of American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan think tank.

Blacks students are twice as likely to be chronically absent from school than their White peers, and “because absenteeism often leads to dropping out of high school, it is not surprising that high school graduation rates have a similar pattern of racial gaps as absenteeism rates.”

The report titled, “The High Cost of Truancy,” detailed the consequences of chronic absenteeism, identified students most at-risk and offered a number of state-level policies that demonstrated the ability to reduce truancy and keep students in the classroom.

Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress, said that as students across the country prepare to go back to school, the public needs to recognize that too many children aren’t showing up to school and many more who attend the first days of school won’t attend on a regular basis.

“The lifelong impact of truancy is alarming,” explained Martin. “It is a predictor of low student achievement, increased school drop-out rates and can be a gateway to the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Truant students often have little control over financial and medical issues or a stressful home life that can impact their ability to attend school on a regular basis. The report listed a number of family or community conditions that contribute to chronic absenteeism including: “parents who do not highly value education; child abuse or neglect; siblings who performed poorly in school; a large number of household members; chronically ill parents; low parental education attainment; foreign-born parents; providing child care for younger siblings; teen pregnancy or parenthood; violence near one’s home or school; homelessness; unreliable transportation; and having a family criminal history or an incarcerated parent.”

Schools that fail to address bullying, have poor recordkeeping, or lackluster school attendance policies can also make it harder for troubled students to stay connected to the classroom. “In a recent study, one in five students who were excessively absent from school – missing seven days or more – were victims of bullying,” the report said. “For victims of bullying, missing school is an understandable defense mechanism that is within their control, particularly when bullying goes unnoticed by school officials.”

Kamala D. Harris, California’s attorney general, said that truancy and absenteeism come at a high cost not only to our children’s education, but also to the nation’s economy and public safety.

Harris said that in California alone, high school dropouts cost the state $46 billion a year as a result of the burden they place on public safety systems, public health systems, social services and lost revenue from taxable income contributions to tax base.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) worked to reform school policies on truancy when they found that their system of issuing truancy tickets and fines not only had an adverse effect on low-income and minority students in the school district, but also “deterred students who are running late from going to school due to fears of interacting with law enforcement.”

The report stated, “In LAUSD, during the same time period in which officers issued 47,000 tickets, the truancy rate in LAUSD increased from 5 percent to 28 percent. A truancy ticket issued for $250 could engender $1,000 in additional court fees and missed days of work for parents and guardians in order to attend court hearings, totaling a heavy price to pay for low-income families.”

Following a successful campaign to cut down on excessive ticketing that “reduced student ticketing for truancy and tardiness by 80 percent,” students now receive counseling and other services designed to keep them in the classroom instead of court dates.

Similarly, in Washington, D.C., school administrators work with K-8 students with poor attendance records to craft individualized plans that include “wrap-around services such as help with job searches, single parenting, transportation, filling out paper work, and parental education.”

The CAP report recommended the adoption of a national definition for truancy, early warning systems to identify students at-risk for falling behind in the classroom, and policies that work to increase parental and guardian engagement in the educational process at school and at home.

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