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A lack of truant officers has made it difficult for the Education Ministry to locate children missing from the school system, and to help most of those at risk of dropping out, sources in the Education Ministry say.

This year, some 40,000 children and teens whose names appear in Interior Ministry statistics did not show up for school, and the Education Ministry has no information on their whereabouts. The Education Ministry attempted to find the missing students, and the number eventually declined to 13,000.

A few months ago, the ministry said it needs 3,500 truant officers, but it only has about 415.

"Only about 20 percent of the children who need help are actually getting it," a source familiar with the statistics said.

Some of the truancy numbers can be chalked up to bureaucratic error, such as students moving to a new school or leaving the country unreported. A check of last year's statistics show that around 15 percent of the missing students - around 5,000 - are officially considered dropouts, although that number may be higher.

A committee at the ministry has been working to implement the amendment to the Mandatory Education Law, passed about six months ago, which extended mandatory education through the 12th grade. A list compiled by the ministry's truancy department of students who have left the system has 70,000 names on it, which shows the problem's magnitude, according to the protocol of a committee meeting obtained by Haaretz. Of this number, the ministry has no information on 42,677 students.

According to source at the ministry, there is a "proven direct correlation between action by truant officers and a decline in truancy, but the heads of the Education Ministry do not understand the seriousness of the problem."

Another source familiar with the situation said each truant officer has a caseload of about 150 children, but can only deal with about 30 percent of that number.

Studies have shown that some 300,000 children are at risk of dropping out, but truancy officers are able to deal with only about 60,000 to 70,000.

The amendment to the Mandatory Education Law states that the Education Ministry must present to the Knesset Education Committee an implementation plan for each year of the law's gradual application, by June 1. But the ministry has yet to present the plan. The head of the Council for the Welfare of the Child, Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, calls this situation "a serious breach of the law that may prevent its implementation."

The Education Ministry said in response: "The Interior Ministry's figures are not a basis for calculating the number of dropouts," and that "13,000 students are now in the process of being located."

However, at the end of the process last year about 8,000 were still missing from the system. The ministry did not mention a lack of truancy officers, but noted that 35 more positions had been added to the 415 existing truancy positions. The ministry also said it had requested an extention for submitting its program to the Education Committee, and expected to hand it in within two weeks.