In order for young people to do better in school, it helps if they actually are in school. Schools basically have two options when it comes to battling chronic truancy. There’s the positive approach, in which students are rewarded with iPads, sneakers, gift cards, and other incentives merely for showing up at school. Then there’s the flip side, in which students and parents are penalized for unexcused absences. In the past, parents have been sentenced to jail time for failing to get their children to school. Prosecutors have also suggested jail time as a penalty for missing parent-teacher conferences. Now there’s a school system in the news because its superintendent plans on fining families $75 for each day a student skips school.
In New Britain, Conn., a new superintendent of schools named Kelt Cooper wants to end high truancy rates among public school students, and he’s proposing monetary penalties to get the job done. A plan to fine students to the tune of $75 per skipped school day is now being considered by New Britain council members.
The concept of fining kids for skipping school may come as a shock, but it’s not new. In Ohio, the guardians responsible for a student guilty of habitual truancy can be fined up to $500 and/or be required to perform up to 70 hours of community service. Until recently, students in Los Angeles could be hit with a $250 penalty for each count of truancy; in early 2012 the law was amended and the stiff fines were removed, though a $20 penalty may still be handed out for the third offense.
The Lebanon School District in Pennsylvania reportedly fined parents more than $500,000 during the 2008-2009 school year via $300-per-violation penalties. The fines grew so large—one parent alone was ordered to pay a whopping $27,000—that a federal lawsuit was filed against the district in early 2011.
Fines for truancy are also in effect overseas. In the U.K., reports the Guardian, parents can be fined £50 (about $80) for each day their child skips school. The penalty doubles if it’s not paid within 28 days, and school officials say that family vacations during the school year are not considered excused absences.
The question is: Do fines like this work? The vast majority of authorities in the U.K. said that, indeed, they are. The penalties were deemed either “very successful” or “fairly successful” by 79% in improving school attendance, according to a survey. The penalties seem to produce a bureaucratic nightmare, however, and not all that much in the way of revenues. More than 127,000 fines have been issued in the U.K. since the law took effect in 2004, and about half of the penalties have been withdrawn or were never paid.
If the proposal passes in Connecticut authorizing fines for truancy, it’s unclear how effective the ordinance might be, how it would be enforced, and what might happen if parents and students refuse to pay up. Nonetheless, local officials seem to be willing to give it a shot. Per the Hartford Courant:
“The mayor agrees that truancy is a real issue in New Britain schools, and what’s been done in the past hasn’t been working to increase attendance,” said Phil Sherwood, aide to Mayor Timothy O’Brien.
And what do the students think? In the New Britain Herald, one 17-year-old entering her senior year called the proposal “ridiculous,” and predicted that the penalties will clog up the court system. Besides, “I don’t see the point,” she said. “Kids will just try harder not to get caught.”