Kane County schools have already set a dubious record in the 2012-13 school year as a new report shows the numbers of truant students reaching a new high.
Local education officials expect the numbers to continue to get worse as lack of funding has crippled their ability to address the problem.
Local schools reported 1,974 students to the Kane County Regional Office of Education for truancy help in the 2012-13 school year. That's an increase of 61 students from the preceding school year. But taking a wider view, the number is more than 200 students higher than the 2009-10 school year, when education officials declared truancy at a 10-year high.
Illinois law requires students to begin school by age 7 and attend every school day until age 17, when they can legally drop out. A student between ages 7 and 17 is considered truant if absent from school without a valid excuse. Eighteen or more days of absence without a valid excuse is considered chronic truancy.
"We have almost 2,000 truants in the county," Regional Superintendent Pat Dal Santo said. "That's quite a bit. We're at an all-time high there. Yes, it's partly due to the economy, but we've also had our grants cut."
Dal Santo's office used to have eight truancy officers. State funding cuts have reduced her to four officers, and at one point funding levels were so low she had to go with only two officers. The officers serve the entire caseload from 170 local schools.
The officers are called in when attempts by the student's local school fail to get the student back in the classroom. Officers conduct home visits, if necessary, to figure out why a student isn't at school. The officers have the ability to bring in the Kane County state's attorney's office and take parents to court, if necessary. More often, truancy officers refer families to counseling services.
Dal Santo said mental health issues are becoming more prevalent in truancy cases, but funding for the agencies who help families address those issues has also decreased.
"Truancy now is different than it was 10 years ago," Dal Santo said. "The majority of our families are involved with mental health issues. We try to address that by sitting in on school improvement plans. We want to build a whole system around students and their families to support them being in school.
"But every case is different. There's 2,000 reasons for why those 2,000 kids aren't in school."
Dal Santo said she is hopeful some funding will return for truancy prevention when state lawmakers return to Springfield for the upcoming veto session.