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Lobbyist Money Help  

Cracking down on truancy

February 03, 1999
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The days when students skipped school might be over -- or at least more painful for truants -- if one central Missouri lawmaker has his way.

Two bills proposed by Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, would require children to attend school in order to obtain a driver's license or their family to receive public assistance.

"It is essential to do everything possible to encourage kids to stay in school," Russell said.

People who are younger than 18-years-old would be required to attend school in order to receive their driver's license. After 10 conceutive or 15 total unexcused absences, the license would be revoked.

"If this bill passes there would be more students in the classrooms," said Principal David Malaney of Hallsville Middle School. "We are not opposed to that, because we are here to educate the children."

"I'm told particularly boys view driver's licenses as the most important thing when they are 15 or 16," Russell said. "This would encourage the kids to stay in school in order to be able to drive."

Attending public, private, home or general education classes would constitute as the student being in school.

"Attendance records determine how much money the school district receives from the state," said Superintendent Thomas Quinn of Centralia High School. With more children enrolled in school, he said, the district would receive more money.

One group, Families for Home Education, opposes the bill for the restrictions it places on home schooled children.

"This will burden the school districts by placing disruptive students in the classrooms," said Diane McLelland, a lobbyist for the group. "It would also require home schooled families to send enrollment documents into DFS."

The bill does not place punishments on students who say they are home schooled when they are not, in order to obtain a driver's license.

"We need to keep school attendance laws and driving privileges separate," McLelland said.

Another bill proposed by Russell would suspend a family's welfare if a child does not attend school. The Family Services Department would be required to check with individual schools regarding attendance records.

"People have to accept responsibility and accountability," Russell said. "This isn't penalizing families one little bit."

If after the first check the child was not in school, a letter would be sent to the family. The second time the child skipped, TANF benefits would be suspsended for one month. TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, is the welfare program that replaced AFDC. After the third finding of truancy, TANF would be suspended for an additional two months, while the fourth offense would cancel the money until the next school year.

"Cutting a family's cash grants is not the way to handle this," said Ruth Ehresman, director for programming at the Citizens for Missouri's Children. "Some interaction with families and schools needs to be added to encourage children to attend school."

The school districts would report to DFS with attendance records.

"On the surface this looks like a good bill," Quinn said. "However, it would be hard to practice with the permissive home schooling laws."

Russell said his bill would encourage parents to resume their responsibilities.

"We would be better off doing positive things to help families find work," said Ehresman. "We need to find a positive solution to help kids stay in school."

"This bill isn't trying to take food out of children's mouths," Russell said. "We are just trying to get the parent's attention."