Who will you pick for DC Council at-large on April 23?

We asked...

Last year DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said that DC schools are suffering from a "truancy crisis." The DC Council is now debating a bill that would increase penalties on parents for kids who chronically miss school. Should parents be held to account for when their kids miss school? How can DC ensure that students attend school consistently?

Matthew Frumin responded...

Truancy is devastating for the truant and costly to taxpayers — over the lifetime of a high school dropout we lose on average close to $300,000 in lost tax revenue on lowered earnings and increased costs for public assistance and incarceration. Truancy also often results in crime, undermining quality of life in communities in which truants gravitate. Everyone pays a price from rampant truancy.

But we should ask ourselves: Will mandatory punishments — including time in jail — for parents of truant children actually help solve the problem? In my view, such punishments, except perhaps in very rare circumstances, are unlikely to help and more likely to do harm.

The hard truth is that solving truancy will require more than placing blame and penalizing families. A lasting solution will require schools to fully meet the needs of our kids, taking into account the situations in which those needs are greatest. As it stands, programming and services in the schools suffering the most from truancy has been shrinking.

We also need to protect kids from bullying that may drive them away from school. And, where the cost of transportation becomes a barrier, provide solutions. At the same time, we should ramp up outreach to families to engage them in their schools and keep them informed both when their kids are truant and when they are performing well.

We need to be realistic about the magnitude of this problem and its causes, and not delude ourselves that throwing a parent in a dysfunctional family in jail for a few days is going to solve our much deeper societal challenges.

The reality is that it will take more and that by any measure — either the impact on kids' lives or an economic cost-benefit analysis — it is worth it.


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