One Solano County leader noted that 5,000 Solano County public school students have been identified as chronically absent. Another noted that 75 percent of habitual truants will drop out of school, and some two-thirds of U.S. prison inmates are school dropouts. And still another leader said 50 percent of all Solano 5-year-olds receive no preschool instruction before reaching kindergarten.
Jay Speck, superintendent of the County Office of Education, District Attorney Don du Bain and Supervisor Linda Siefert made persuasive links between the importance of early childhood education, regular school attendance, truancy, dropout rates and crime during a Tuesday breakfast meeting in Fairfield, sponsored by Solano Economic Development Corporation.
Their remarks come at a time when California's high school graduation rate rose sharply last year, to 80 percent, with Latino and black students showing gains higher than those of white and Asian students. Still, the state is ranked 39th out of 50 states in graduation rates, and it ranks 49th, down from 47th in the past year, in per-pupil spending, according to Ed Source, an independent online forum that seeks to clarify education issues.
An educator for nearly 40 years, Speck, speaking briefly to some 250 people gathered in the Hilton Hotel, suggested that signs a student may drop out surface before the child reaches high school.
Important factors leading to dropout rates, he noted, using computer-aided slides, are school readiness, being able to read proficiently by third grade, making progress toward graduation, student engagement and attendance.
The lead architect of "Every Minute Matters," a program designed to stem chronic absenteeism, beginning in the primary grades, Speck noted that absences -- whether excused, unexcused or due to suspension -- stymie a student's ability to succeed, and chronic absenteeism, defined as a student who misses 18 or more days of school, or more than one-tenth of the year, is a harbinger for trouble.
In the past year, the SCOE has begun tracking chronic absenteeism, and research shows that 5,000 Solano students, or 9 percent, are defined as chronically absent, he said.
Nearly 80 percent of children in the juvenile justice system are classified as chronically absent, said Speck, who dispelled some myths about root causes of absenteeism, among them "missing school has no impact" on a student as long as the schoolwork is made up; and it is acceptable "as long as parents give permission."
To battle chronic absenteeism, he noted that SCOE has made some headway. Specifically, it has begun tracking data -- at school sites and even to particular teachers -- supporting families in truancy court; distributing "tool kits" about the consequences of chronic absenteeism, and making public service announcements.
Du Bain, in his remarks, noted that two-thirds of U.S. prison inmates are high school dropouts; compared the state's overall dropout rates to Solano's, 13 percent to 16 percent, respectively; then detailed the dropout rates among the county's major school districts: Travis (2 percent), Benicia (3 percent), Vacaville and Fairfield-Suisun (9 percent); Dixon (14 percent), and Vallejo (35 percent).
"One out of three kids are dropping out of high school in Vallejo," said du Bain, then asked the audience to guess how much dropouts cost California taxpayers every year. The answer: $46 billion.
"Truancy affects crime" rates, he said, adding that supportive parenting -- or lack of it -- before children reach 3 1/2 years of age is "a predictor of high school graduation."
Du Bain also cited the importance of nurse-family partnerships, preschool, and the presence of Boys & Girls Clubs in low-income neighborhoods as ways to cut the truancy and crime rates.
As many as 75 percent of habitual truants eventually will drop out of school, he said.
Siefert, just before recognizing a host of Pre-K Business Champion Award honorees, called the statistics "pretty alarming."
More than half of all Solano children never step into a preschool class, she noted, then made a reference to First 5 Solano, an innovative program and services to help young children grow up healthy and do well in school and life.
The demand for pre-kindergarten instruction in Solano has risen recently, Siefert noted, from 200 to 400 children countywide.
Follow Staff Writer Richard Bammer at Twitter.com/REBammer.