State lawmakers voted Tuesday to create a top-level task force that would address truancy in Chicago elementary schools, a long-ignored problem that especially affects disadvantaged African-American youth and children with disabilities.
The Senate's approval of a House resolution sends the measure to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk for his signature.
The task force was proposed in response to a Chicago Tribune investigation in November that gained access to the city's internal school attendance database and revealed a devastating pattern of K-8 absenteeism in Chicago. Officials for years published upbeat and misleading statistics, but the newspaper found roughly 32,000 elementary students — or 1 in 8 — missed at least a month of classes during the 2010-2011 school year, while thousands more simply vanished from the attendance rolls.
The articles revealed weaknesses in state law, breakdowns in communication between government agencies and the indifference of city officials who abandoned efforts to locate or retrieve missing youth.
Days after the Empty-desk Epidemic series was published, state Sen. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, introduced legislation to convene a task force, and she held an impassioned town hall hearing.
"Kids are dying on the streets because they are not at their desks reading and writing," Chapa LaVia said at the time.
Quinn said he is eager to work with Chapa LaVia and others on the task force.
To read the Tribune series, please visit www.chicagotribune.com/truancy