October 17, 2016
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson Praises Grant Program to Help Keep Students in School
SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today applauded new legislation providing $27 million in grants to school districts for programs to reduce high rates of chronic absenteeism, out-of-school suspension, dropouts, and crime.
The California Department of Education (CDE), which will administer the funding, has already begun developing grant guidelines.
“Chronic absenteeism is one of the biggest challenges we face. If a student is not at school, she or he cannot learn,” said Torlakson. “That’s what makes this investment so important. It will help our most at-risk students remain in school so they can learn, thrive, and graduate with the skills that will prepare them to succeed in 21st century careers and college.”
Torlakson said the funds will help continue and expand efforts underway to fight chronic absenteeism, especially for high-risk groups such as foster youth.
Keeping students in school is a top priority for Torlakson. He has helped spread best practices for reducing chronic absenteeism by sponsoring conferences, convening the State Attendance Review Board (which makes recommendations to districts about how to identify chronically absent students and increase their attendance), and supporting related legislation.
Torlakson thanked Governor Brown for signing the legislation that created the grant program.
Assembly Member Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) authored AB 2815, which promotes effective attendance practices that may be used by districts that receive grant funding as well as districts that will not be grant recipients.
“Student success begins with kids being present and engaged in the classroom,” said Assembly Member O’Donnell, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee and a longtime school teacher. “Under this new law, attendance supervisors will be empowered to foster a culture of attendance and provide guidance to children who regularly miss school.”
Nine million dollars to fund the grant will come from Proposition 47, a voter-approved initiative that reduced prison time for some non-violent crimes and allocates savings to some school programs. The Governor approved an additional $18 million in the state budget to fund the program.
The legislation requires that grants go to districts that are most at risk, such as districts with high suspension, expulsion, dropout, and truancy rates and districts with high crime rates.
Districts may seek funding to hire more social workers, counselors, and nurses to identify and expand efforts to increase the attendance of students identified as chronically absent. They may also apply to launch or expand restorative justice programs that have proven to reduce suspension rates by allowing students who violate rules to avoid being suspended by taking other actions to make up for their violations.
The grants are for three years and require a 20 percent match, which can come from the districts’ Local Control and Funding Formula budgets. Districts will report the outcomes of their programs to their governing boards, county offices of education, and CDE.
While much work remains, California has made significant progress reducing an important cause of absenteeism: expulsions and suspensions. Since 2011–12, when the CDE began collecting and reporting detailed data, suspensions have declined by nearly 34 percent and expulsions have dropped more than 40 percent.
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Tom Torlakson —
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100