California is facing an attendance crisis,” finds the California Attorney General. Specifically:

According to the California Department of Education, 691,470 California elementary school children, or 1 out of every 5 elementary school students, were reported to be truant in the 2011-2012 school year. … hundreds of thousands of students in California are chronically absent from school. Over 250,000 elementary school students missed more than 10% of the school year (over 18 school days); and a shocking 20,000 elementary school children missed 36 days or more of school in a single school year.

To put these figures into perspective:

… we are discussing a 6-year-old in the first grade who has stacked up as many as 20, 30, even 80 absences in a 180-day school year. It is estimated that today, there are over 252,000 children in California who, like this hypothetical first grader, are chronically absent from elementary school.

The costs are high:

Failing to show up to school costs California public school districts $1.4 billion annually. Projections of future incarceration and lost revenue from lower wages resulting from poor schooling exceed $46 billion.

The truancy figures used by the AG are largely estimated, since California is one of only four states that do not compile statewide student attendance records. At the local level, long-term attendance data are spotty at best.

This data void begs an important question: how are districts able to collect funding from the state when they don’t reliably track how many students their schools regularly enroll?

The state AG offers many recommendations, including better data collection, home visits by school officials, active School Attendance Review Boards (SARB), and even “truancy prosecutions of parents when an elementary school child is involved.”

Yet the AG’s report admits many parents and students live in unsafe neighborhoods and are afraid to let their children walk to school.

Not mentioned in the report is the fact that many schools simply aren’t safe, but parents and students are stuck.

Rather than prosecuting parents, they should be empowered with alternative schooling options—including safe transport vouchers to their current schools, as well as expanded virtual, charter, and non-government schooling options.