State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia today introduced legislation to create a task force to "address the truancy and excessive absences epidemic" in Chicago's public elementary schools.
The resolution creating the panel would have to be approved by the state House and Senate, either during the remaining days of the veto session or in January. Both Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett have said they would support the task force.
The "Truancy in Chicago Public Schools Task Force" would include representatives appointed by the statehouse leadership, as well as by city and state schools officials, the governor and Chicago's mayor, community groups and business leaders, and top state agencies.
The task force would schedule public hearings and report its findings to the general assembly next year.
Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) is seeking to create the task force in response to a recent Tribune investigation finding that nearly 32,000 Chicago students in grades K-8 — or roughly 1 in 8 — missed four weeks or more of class during the 2010-11 year, while the cash-strapped district does little to stem the problem.
Absenteeism in the elementary grades is especially acute in African-American communities on the South and West Sides that are scarred by gang violence, unemployment and poverty. Counting truancy, excused absences and gaps in enrollment, more than 20 percent of black elementary school students missed at least four weeks of school in 2010-11, compared with 7 percent of whites and 8 percent of Hispanics, the Tribune found.
Children with a learning or emotional disability also miss class in disproportionate numbers, despite federal laws designed to keep such students in school. About 42 percent of K-8 students with an emotional disability missed four weeks of classes in 2010-11, compared with 12 percent of students without a disability, for example.
The flood of empty desks places the education of thousands of children in peril, undermines the Chicago Public Schools’ efforts to boost achievement and costs the district millions in attendance-based funding, the Tribune found.