CHICAGO (AP) — Nearly 32,000 elementary school students in Chicago Public Schools — roughly 1 in 8 — missed four weeks or more of class in the 2010-11 school year, according to a published report Sunday.
The Chicago Tribune reported (http://trib.in/VTKyW3 ) that the problem often starts young — about 19 percent of kindergarteners were listed as chronic truants — is highly prevalent in black neighborhoods on the city's south and west sides and that children with learning or emotional disabilities missed school in disproportionate rates.
The newspaper also highlighted issues with the way the school district keeps attendance records and said CPS could benefit financially by boosting its attendance. Anti-truancy efforts have suffered as city resources have been cut in budget shortfalls, it said.
"These are the kids who most need the help, and principals just don't have the resources," said Julious Lawson, principal at Von Humboldt Elementary. "We don't have truant officers. We don't ... hold parents accountable when their kids are not in school."
The Tribune analyzed attendance records not previously made public. Figures from 2010 to 2011 were the most recent available.
The newspaper calculated the nation's third largest school district could bring in $9 million more if it boosted attendance by 1 percent, a finding confirmed by state education officials.
The newspaper also pointed out problems with the way the district tracks attendance.
School authorities are only required to count a student as absent if he or she is actively enrolled. In one case, an 11-year-old was reported with perfect attendance but didn't register for classes until a month after they started.
Educators say students miss class for reasons like having to take care of younger siblings, among other things.
Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler acknowledged that "there are far too many children who are missing more than four weeks of school in a given year, and that really eliminates any ability to establish a routine and a sense of belonging or for any degree of continuity in learning."
She said massive budget shortfalls have limited resources, but officials are searching for ways to engage parents, students and the community to keep students in class.