Los Angeles is easing its stance on truancy. For the past decade, a tough city ordinance slapped huge fines on students for even one instance of skipping school or being late, but the Los Angeles City Council is changing that law to focus on helping students get to class because it turns out those harsh fines were backfiring.
Two years ago, Nabil Romero, a young Angeleno with a thin black mustache, was running late to his first period at a public high school on LA's Westside.
On a recent wintry day, Kansas City eighth-grader Yak Nak sat before a Missouri state Senate committee. He was there to tell lawmakers why his family had sacrificed to send him to a parochial school.
"Even though it was a struggle for my family, the reputation of the public schools in my area was not as good as my parents would have hoped," he said. "They knew there was no time to waste when dealing with young minds, and education was more valuable than any money they could save."
Consider this: Yak Nak and his family are refugees from Sudan.
Every year, roughly 750,000 high school dropouts try to improve their educational and employment prospects by taking the General Educational Development test, or GED, long considered to be the equivalent of a high school diploma.
The latest research, however, shows that people with GEDs are, in fact, no better off than dropouts when it comes to their chances of getting a good job.
This is raising lots of questions, especially in school districts with high dropout rates and rising GED enrollments.
The words "black market" usually summon images of drugs, guns or pirated DVDs — not tubas. Yet authorities in Los Angeles say the instrument is in such high demand that the black market may be what's driving a wave of local tuba thefts.
Ruben Gonzalez is teaching an after-lunch band class at the scene of one recent tuba crime — the music room at South Gate High School outside L.A. He starts with a request only a band teacher would make.
"Make sure we rinse out folks — we don't need any hamburgers or hot chilies coming through those instruments," he says.