How L.A. Unified could reduce absenteeism, if it listens to outside advisors

Two years ago, an independent policy group warned Los Angeles Unified School District officials that high levels of student absenteeism were eating away at the district’s finances.

Since then, the problem has not gone away. As L.A. Unified’s student enrollment has continued to shrink, the percentage of chronically absent students has remained essentially unchanged — a concern because funding is based on attendance. According to one estimate, absenteeism cost the nation’s second-largest school district $20 million last year, at a time when it’s desperately in search of new revenue.

Now, a different advisory body is trying again.

Assembled by philanthropist and former Los Angeles Times publisher Austin Beutner to work with Supt. Michelle King, the latest task force is made up of civic leaders and education experts.

On Tuesday, the group presented L.A. Unified’s school board with its first set of recommendations, aimed at encouraging students who frequently skip class to show up more often.

Their report includes ideas pulled from other districts, including Philadelphia, Cleveland and Long Beach Unified. Among them is a proposal to send direct mail to parents of students who are at risk of missing too much school. Another would dispatch volunteers to canvas homes and businesses near schools with high rates of absenteeism. Click here to read more: