LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — One million elementary school students were truant last year, costing the state an estimated $46 billion and starting students on a cycle directly linked to crime, social services and public health problems in later years, according to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

State law defines truancy as students who are absent or tardy for more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse three times in a school year.

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In a statewide report issued Monday, the California Attorney General found 250,00 students — one in four — missed 18 or more school days a year.

“Children as young as five-years-old may be missing 50, 60 up to 80 days of 180-day school year,” said Harris.

“The big issues that we talk about in terms of criminal justice issues, the big issues that we talk about in terms of workforce development issues can directly be traced to this one issue,” she said. “That is not a small issue, just because they are small people.”

Some school districts are attempting to tackle truancy directly. The Los Angeles Unified School District employs a task force that goes to homes to find out why a child is not in school.

“The most truant kids are those in kindergarten and first grade, which stuns me,” said Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who added a stern letter from her office to the child’s parents helps.

“The average kid that we had contact with had 16 absences in one year. We cut it back to eight,” Lacey said.

Attorney General Harris said a statewide system in California is needed to track and tackle the issue.

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“California school districts are leaving $1.4 million a year on the table because of lost reimbursement for per pupil attendance,” she said.

In downtown L.A., Frank Del Olmo Elementary School has made progress through methods that encourage students to want to go to school.

“Everyday all the kids have a picture on the wall of them attending school every day, so if they don’t attend school, their picture comes off the wall,” said parent Stephanie Jones. “And no kid wants their picture off the wall.”

KCAL9’s Dave Lopez reported only 13 of more than 970 students were absent from school Monday, a figure the school’s principal said is the norm.

Attorney General Harris said preventing truancy starts at home.

“We must also consider the circumstance of the parents, and appreciate that they actually want to improve their circumstance so they can be better on this issue of getting their child to school,” Harris said. “We have seen that a large proportion of the parents are facing financial crisis and hardship.”


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