Struggling communities can't get back on track without righting their public education ships.
And students already struggling with socioeconomic challenges often find themselves in a deeper hole by failing to attend school.
It's why we applaud a coalition of public, charter and private schools in East Chicago for joining forces with city officials to aggressively attack chronic truancy before the school year even starts.
Times education reporter Carley Lanich showed our readers Sunday how dozens of East Chicago students each school year are identified as habitually truant.
For the last seven months, the East Chicago coalition has met regularly to shape a program to address the causes of chronic student absenteeism.
The resulting Project Second Start now has East Chicago educators partnering with community organizations including the North Township Trustee's Office, the East Chicago Housing Authority, Geminus and the Indiana Parenting Institute.
It means a unified way of providing services to help get truant students back to school, attacking a host of causes, from behavioral to transportation issues.
For those families not responding to the services, the East Chicago City Council has put some teeth behind the need for compliance.
A new ordinance passed this month allows school officials to refer repeat truancy cases to the city attorney, who may chose to refer those families to the city's truancy program.
If parents fail to participate in the truancy program and get their children back in school, they could be summoned to city court, assessed $100 fines and be compelled to serve up to 50 hours of mandated community service.
East Chicago's truancy court is similar to programs already in use in Lowell and Gary.
This is an important layer of accountability in a problem that threatens student growth and success.
In the end, parents of all Region school districts must take responsibility for their children's regular school attendance.
But as the new school year approaches, East Chicago is right to attempt getting ahead of a longstanding problem.