School districts and the state would be required to do a better job of tracking students who miss class under proposed legislation announced Monday that is designed to lower California's dropout rate.
The package of bills would write into law recommendations from a report released by Attorney General Kamala Harris in September.
The report, entitled "In School and On Track,'' says 30 percent of the state's elementary school students miss enough school each year to harm their academic performance. The report says about one million students were considered truant in the 2012-2013 school year, costing their school districts a combined $1.4 billion in funding the state distributes based on students' attendance.
The law defines truancy as being absent or arriving more than 30 minutes late without a valid excuse three times in a school year. Students who miss 10 percent of the school year without good reason are considered to be chronically truant, which experts say increases their risk of failing.
"It's very predictable that the elementary school truant will end up being a high school dropout,'' Harris said.
The legislation Harris is seeking would require schools to increase their reporting of truant students, which she said would help officials find ways to get them back in school.
"If we don't know what the problem is or where the problem is, we can't solve it,'' said Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, who is carrying one of the bills.
Of the million students considered truant during the last school year, Harris' report projected that 250,000 elementary school students missed 18 or more school days, or 10 percent of the school year. It found that 20,000 elementary school students missed at least 36 days of school.
Harris previously backed a bill passed in 2010 that lets prosecutors charge parents with misdemeanors, bringing up to a year in jail and $2,000 fine, if their children miss too much school.
That law is used sparingly, according to Harris' report, with district attorneys reporting prosecuting an average of three to six cases each year. Harris and lawmakers carrying this year's bills said the earlier measure was designed not to turn parents into criminals, but to give school and law enforcement officials a way to get parents' attention. One bill proposed this year, AB2141, would require prosecutors to report to school officials the outcome of such legal referrals.
Among other bills:
-- SB1107 would require the attorney general's office to file an annual report similar to the one Harris produced last year.
-- AB1643 would require that every school district create a School Attendance Review Board including parents, teachers, administrators and law enforcement.
-- AB1672 would require the review boards to collect and report more information about truant students.
-- AB1866 would require the state Department of Education to collect attendance data.