Calif. bill could jail parents if kids miss school |

Calif. bill could jail parents if kids miss school

SACRAMENTO (AP) – The state of California would hold parents responsible if their children are chronically truant under a bill the state Senate approved Thursday.

The bill would let prosecutors charge parents with misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine if their kids miss too much school. Judges could delay the punishment to parents as an incentive to get their children to class.

It applies only to parents or guardians of children age 6 or older in kindergarten through eighth grade. Prosecutors would have to prove the parents failed to reasonably supervise and encourage the student to attend school.

Chronic truancy would be defined in a separate pending bill as missing 10 percent or more of the school year without a valid excuse.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said his bill, SB1317, is a public safety measure because children who do poorly in school or drop out are more likely to commit crimes.

“Three-quarters of our state inmate population are high school dropouts,” Leno said.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general, sought the truancy legislation.

“There is a very direct connection between public safety and public education,” Harris said in a recent interview. “It’s much cheaper to focus to getting that elementary school student to school than it is prosecuting a homicide.”

Harris said she has been criticized for promoting a bill to punish parents for their children’s actions.

“That’s not my goal. I just want these kids to go to school, and I’m prepared to be the bad guy,” she said.

The state public defenders association opposes the bill, saying it would be hard on single parents or on families who live in areas where street gangs make going to school dangerous.

The measure passed the Senate on a 21-9 vote with no spoken opposition, though several Republican senators changed their votes from yes to no.

It now goes to the Assembly.