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Mayor Villaraigosa announces grant to prevent chronic truancy

9/23/2011, 8:25 a.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today announced the city will receive at least $10 million in federal funds to help keep chronically absent students in school.

The federal Workforce Investment Grant will be given to the Los Angeles Unified School District to hire full-time staff that will work with students year-round to improve attendance.

The grant could be as high as $13 million. The amount might go up after Congress finalizes its budget, but $10 million is guaranteed.

The announcement was timed with Student Recovery Day, an annual event where district and city leaders visit the homes of students who rarely attend school and try and persuade them to come back.

"Every student, no matter their previous attendance record, deserves a second chance to get back to school and on the right track," Villaraigosa said.

The mayor said he nearly dropped out of high school but got back on track with help from his mother and a dedicated teacher. "We know all too well the social and economic costs for every dropout are high," Villaraigosa said.

"They are more likely to face a lifetime of poverty, unemployment and possibly even crime."

The mayor said the money will also be used to create partnerships between LAUSD and community colleges he hopes will drive students back to school, a community college or a workforce training program.

United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing close to 40,000 district teachers and staff, said the district has made student attendance worse by laying off 80 attendance counselors.

"It is incredibly shortsighted that LAUSD has laid off over 80 trained experienced professionals who are doing one of the most crucial support jobs in the district," UTLA President Warren Fletcher said. "A problem as pervasive and insidious as the dropout rate cannot be solved with a one-day photo op.

This vital work needs to be done all school year long, not just on one special day."

The union wants the district to use a $55 million year-end surplus to rehire some of the hundreds of recently laid off teachers and other staff.