Center for American Progress Highlights ‘High Cost of Truancy’


Young people in school today will be the workers of tomorrow, so strong academic achievement is imperative for each student’s prosperity, but also for the prosperity of their country. Being successful in school, however, is dependent upon several factors, one of the most important being attendance. A student needs to be in class every day, especially low-income students, students of color, students with special needs, and students who speak English as a second language.

Farah Z. Ahmad and Tiffany D. Miller of the Center for American Progress (CAP) point out that unexcused absences from school have become an increasingly damaging issue for students and those who educate them. Truancy, they add, is a predictor of low student performance and for dropping out of high school. The result is that students who miss days of being in class may face lifelong economic consequences, with truancy often linked to the school-to-prison pipeline.

In most states, truancy is considered an offense for minors, and until the 1960s and 1970s, truancy was formally processed through the US juvenile justice system. The Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 moved truancy punishments away from courts and allowed young people the opportunity to make amends and return to their communities and avoid entering the criminal justice system, a path likely to limit their future options.

Now methods like mentoring programs, parent training, and direct provision of services can be used collaboratively by students, their families, law enforcement, schools, government agencies, nonprofits, and community members. Still, in some jurisdictions, thousands of truant juveniles continue to be processed through the juvenile justice system.

The causes of truancy are many, but in some cases school policies can actually discourage attendance. Because of the recognition of this problem, early intervention on school attendance has become a focal point for educators and school policymakers. Federal, state, and local policy recommendations to combat truancy include the need to improve data collection for early warning systems and the importance of increasing the accessibility and availability of education programs, says Turlock Journal’s Alysson Aredas.

“Debates about our nation’s public education system are moot if our children aren’t in class,” said California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. “Truancy is a major problem in California and nationwide, resulting in significant economic loss and increased public safety costs. This report should serve as a call to action, because every child deserves an equal education.”

All schools in the Turlock United School District are required to hold School Attendance Review Team meetings for students who have five unexcused absences and must monitor students with chronic attendance issues. TUSD is using Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports to assist principals in cultivating a school-wide “culture of attendance.”

Harris commissioned a study in California in the mid-2000s and found that almost 85% of the elementary students who missed at least 10% of the school year came from low-income families. Harris’ research also found that about 4 in 10 African American students who were sampled were truant.

Emily Deruy writes in The Atlantic that if the risk of truancy is greater for students of color, and the number of these students is growing, it is even more important that leaders take action immediately because truancy’s cost is too high.

“Some researchers posit that if students who live in high-poverty neighborhoods attended school every day with no other changes being made, students would experience increased rates of academic achievement, high-school completion, post-secondary education attainment, and economic productivity,” CAP noted.

The Center for American Progress’ published report is entitled “The High Cost of Truancy” and can be downloaded from the organization’s website.