Why many California students keep missing school
While Gov. Newsom brags about students returning to classrooms, an EdSource report found many districts are experiencing a massive uptick in chronic absenteeism.
It would seem that the kids are not all right.
The day after he secured a landslide victory in the Sept. 14 recall election, Gov. Gavin Newsom visited an Oakland school to tout the state’s progress in reopening campuses, noting that 95% to 100% of students in most districts had returned to in-person instruction. But that picture was complicated by a Monday EdSource report that found many districts are experiencing a massive uptick in chronic absenteeism — students who miss more than 10% of school days. Since the school year started:
- 46% of students at Thermalito Union Elementary, a rural district serving mostly low-income families in Butte County, have been chronically absent — up from 8.8% two years ago.
- 39% of Stockton Unified students have been chronically absent — more than double the rate two years ago.
- Almost 33% of Oakland Unified students have been chronically absent.
- More than 26% of Elk Grove Unified students have been chronically absent.
Experts say the staggering numbers are due partly to kids in quarantine, who are counted absent if they don’t log on every day and complete their assignments. Another possible reason for the skyrocketing absenteeism: a surge in families who want their children to continue learning remotely. Many of the 15,000 Los Angeles Unified students who signed up for the district’s independent study program have encountered snafus that blocked them from attending school for days or even weeks, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The problem is especially acute for students with disabilities. Newsom last week signed legislation clarifying that students with special needs can continue accessing services remotely — but some have already gone more than a month without any instruction or specialized care, as CalMatters has reported.
- Lisa Cruikshank, Thermalito Union’s director of special projects: “What keeps me up at night is all these kids losing out on high-quality instruction, falling behind, falling through the cracks.”
Further complicating matters is California’s shortage of teachers and substitutes. A whopping 37% of positions in Los Angeles Unified are currently filled by substitutes — who, under state law, must be transferred to different students after 30 days (a timeframe recently extended to 60 days through July 1, 2022). The sheer chaos and difficulty of setting up a reliable staffing plan is one reason why many districts this year won’t be able to deliver on Newsom and lawmakers’ $5 billion plan to address learning loss through expanded school days and summer programs.
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Other stories you should know
1. Judge mandates vaccination for prison guards
California prison officials and employee unions have two weeks to come up with a plan to implement mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for prison staff, inmates who work outside the facilities and prisoners who want in-person visitation, a federal judge ruled Monday. The order came a few days after a federally appointed official who oversees medical care in California’s prison system urged the court to require vaccines for prison guards, citing the rapid spread of the delta variant and ongoing outbreaks traced to infected staff members. But it could face a legal challenge from the powerful prison guards’ union, which has so far been exempt from Newsom’s sweeping mandates impacting other state employees, CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons reports. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association donated $1.75 million to committees fighting the Newsom recall — the sixth-largest contribution overall.
Meanwhile, California on Monday had the lowest coronavirus case rate in the country, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
2. Newsom signs key election, labor bills
Newsom on Monday whittled down the stack of 500-plus bills on his desk by signing a bunch related to elections and workers’ rights. Here’s a look at what some of the new laws mean for the Golden State:
- Every active, registered California voter will receive a mail-in ballot for all elections moving forward. This could benefit Democrats, who were more likely than Republicans to vote by mail in the Sept. 14 recall election. It will also likely boost turnout: In the November 2020 election — the first in which all voters were mailed a ballot — turnout topped 70%, the highest rate since 1952. And more than 12.5 million ballots have been counted in the recall so far — approaching the record 12.7 million cast in the 2018 gubernatorial general election.
- Californians will vote on two races for the same U.S. Senate seat in 2022. As first reported in this newsletter, the confusing setup allows the state to avoid violating the U.S. Constitution — in what critics have called “the most undemocratic way possible.”
- Fashion brands must pay garment workers by the hour unless they collectively bargain to be paid by the piece, and each link in the fashion chain — from factories to brands to retailers — can be held liable for wage theft. The clothing industry warns the new regulations could move jobs offshore, reversing a recent trend that saw jobs return to America during the pandemic.
- The state will phase out a program allowing companies to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage. Supporters say the program was exploitative; opponents say ending the program will make it that much harder for disabled Californians to find a job and lead independent lives.
3. The political calculus of redistricting
The independent commission tasked with redrawing California’s legislative and congressional boundaries each decade is supposed to be just that — independent. But the commission — which is meeting today and Wednesday in Sacramento ahead of a Dec. 27 deadline to submit final maps to the secretary of state — may not be as sheltered from political forces as its name suggests, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher and Sameea Kamal report. That’s because not all Californians who testify before the committee reveal possible conflicts of interest. A few examples:
- Ada Briceño, who urged the commission to put in separate districts “the very different communities” of north and south coastal Orange County, described herself as a “labor organizer” — neglecting to mention she’s also chairperson of the Orange County Democratic Party.
- A caller named “Austin” said the commission should keep both Orange County coasts in the same congressional district. Her phone number fragment and biographical description match those of Austin Eisner, whose husband Alexander is a law partner of Shawn Steel, the husband of GOP U.S. Rep. Michelle Steel — who narrowly ousted Democratic incumbent Harley Rouda in November 2020 to represent coastal Orange County.
Heightening the political stakes of the commission’s job: California losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in history — likely one held by a Los Angeles County Democrat. Further scrambling the political reshuffling, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass — who represents Los Angeles — formally launched her bid for Los Angeles mayor on Monday.
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Building an “endemic” economy: California must create consistent policies for the long haul, rather than enacting arbitrary, short-term mandates, argue Rob Lapsley of the California Business Roundtable and Tracy Hernandez of the Los Angeles County Business Federation.
It’s time for a civilian climate corps: The state and federal governments must support young people who want to stay in their home communities and reverse the harm from decades of fossil fuel pollution, writes Maricruz Ramirez of Sunrise Kern County.
Other things worth your time
Podcast: Why Fresno is one of the nation’s hottest housing markets. // CalMatters
What killed Bay Area teen? Suicide follows bout with COVID. // Mercury News
Leaders grapple with Pajaro Valley’s pandemic-fueled youth violence crisis. // Lookout Local Santa Cruz
Veto pressure on Newsom mounts as ethnic studies deadline looms. // Jewish News
California’s secret war over Pentagon aid in fighting wildfires. // New York Times
Los Angeles County district attorney to dismiss 60,000 past marijuana convictions. // Los Angeles Times
California’s new misdemeanor diversion law sparks confusion, disparities in DUI cases. // Mercury News
San Francisco could foot the bill for school board recall to help cash-strapped district. // San Francisco Chronicle
Small Business Administration nominee Dilawar Syed, a California businessman, stalled from confirmation by GOP. // Washington Post
Unflattering audit of San Diego real estate deals prompts pushback from city attorney. // San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego County gave pay raise to troubled COVID-19 hotel contractor. // inewsource
‘He held me hostage with no gun but with his words’: The phone scam gaslighting California therapists. // San Francisco Chronicle
Why California’s youth population, birth rate is decreasing. // Mercury News
Cargo piles up as California ports jostle over how to resolve delays. // Wall Street Journal
Scenic ranch near Mission San Juan Bautista preserved in land conservation deal. // Mercury News
Los Angeles luxury real estate fight: The battle over ‘The One.’ // Los Angeles Times
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