| Truancy Laws and Effectiveness |
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The Connecticut General Assembly
OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH
January 6, 1997 97-R-0049
FROM: D'Ann Mazzocca, Principal Analyst
RE: Truancy Laws and Effectiveness
You asked for a summary of the state's truancy laws and for any information about their effectiveness. You also want to know about other states' truancy programs and their effectiveness.
State statutes define a truant as a student from age seven to 16 with at least four unexcused absences in a month or 10 in a school year. They require school boards to adopt truancy policies and procedures that meet certain conditions. Habitual truancy is also a criterion for the Superior Court to declare a child's family a “family with service needs” (FWSN), which can result in a variety of dispositions including referral to school authorities for services. In addition, the law allows towns to adopt ordinances about truants and impose fines for violations. There is no reliable information about the effectiveness of any of these laws in reducing truancy.
The two most common truancy prevention programs in other states are “Learnfare,” which requires teen parents or their school age children to attend school in order to continue receiving welfare benefits, and “No Pass No Drive” laws, which require suspending the drivers licenses of habitual truants or school dropouts. Learnfare programs have been evaluated and have demonstrated mixed results. In Ohio, researchers found a statistically significant improvement in both enrollment and attendance rates. Wisconsin's program appears to have had no statistically significant effect on attendance or enrollment. No reliable evaluative studies are available on the No Pass No Drive programs, according to the nonpartisan research organization Education Commission of the States (ECS). A 1990 report from Connecticut's motor vehicles and education commissioners on the feasibility of enacting such a program in Connecticut found drawbacks to such a program outweighed possible benefits and did not recommend enactment.
CONNECTICUT TRUANCY LAWS
The statutory requirements for the truancy policies that each school board must adopt include:
1. meeting with a child's parents (or others having control of the child) and appropriate school personnel within 10 school days of his becoming truant to review and evaluate the reasons for his truancy;
2. notifying parents in writing at the beginning of each school year, or upon a child's enrollment, of their obligation to ensure that the child attends school when it is in session;
3. getting parents' daytime phone numbers, or other ways of contacting them during the day, at the beginning of each school year or when a child enrolls;
4. developing a way of monitoring unexcused absences so that a school staff member or volunteer makes a reasonable effort to notify the parents of absent students by phone, if there has been no indication that they are aware of their children's absence;
5. referring such children to community agencies providing child and family services and coordinating services with such agencies; and
6. requiring the superintendent to bring a truant child's case to Superior Court under the family with service needs (FWSN) law, if the parent or other person who has control of him fails to attend the required meeting with appropriate school personnel to evaluate why the child is truant or fails to cooperate with the school in trying to solve the child's truancy problem (CGS § 10-198a, as amended by PA 95-304).
Families with Service Needs Law
Under FWSN law, if a parent, municipal officials, school superintendent, or child care agency believes a child's behavior indicates that the family is a FWSN family, he may file a written complaint with the court. The court investigates, holds a hearing, and disposes of the case in a variety of ways, including sending the child home with a warning, ordering the child to remain home on probation, ordering counseling for the child or family, referring the child to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), or placing him in DCF's custody. Habitual truancy is one of the FWSN criteria. A school board or private school must ensure that an educational evaluation is done, if none has been done in the past year, for any students who are named in a FWSN petition based on habitual truancy, and must pay for that evaluation. The court may refer a child, whose family it has found to be a FWSN family solely because of the child's truancy, to the appropriate public or private school authorities for services, such as summer school, that the school or district may provide. It also makes such a child subject to the supervision of his school district or private school authorities, as well as to a probation officer, when the court has ordered him to remain at home or in the custody of a relative or other suitable person (CGS § 46b-149).
Town and City Ordinances
In addition, the law allows towns and cities to (1) adopt ordinances about “habitual truants,” public or private school students aged seven through 16 with at least 20 or more unexcused absences during a school year and (2) impose penalties of up to $ 20 a day for violations of the ordinances (CGS § 10-200, as amended by PA 95-304).
The state's strong tradition of local control over education matters and the General Assembly's concerted efforts in recent years to reduce state mandates on towns contribute to the lack of data upon which to base judgment about the effectiveness of the state's truancy laws. In fact, PA 95-304 removed a requirement that school boards report the number of habitual truants in kindergarten through eighth grade to the Education Department. Although the statutes define “truant” and “habitual truant” based on the numbers of unexcused absences, the law leaves the definition of an unexcused absence to the school boards. Because boards' definitions differ, the department found that the reports on the numbers of truants were not comparable among districts and thus not useful in drawing conclusions about program effectiveness.
OTHER STATES' TRUANCY LAWS
The National Conference of State Legislatures and the American Public Welfare Association identify 30 states that tie the receipt of full Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits to school attendance or achievement: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Some state's programs have been recently enacted but a few have been in place for some time. Wisconsin was the first state to implement such a plan in FY 1988-89. ECS, in a May 1996 report, identified some common elements found in many of the states' Learnfare programs:
1. tying welfare benefits for teen parents to strong school attendance,
2. providing cash bonuses for a high school diploma or GED certificate,
3. requiring those who have already dropped out to sign a contract committing them to getting a diploma and entering the workforce,
4. requiring teens to live at home or with a responsible adult, and
5. denying some benefits to welfare parents whose children are frequently truant.
An OLR report summarizing these states' programs (96-R-0436) is attached for your information.
Both Ohio and Wisconsin have tied the receipt of AFDC funds to school attendance since the late 1980s. The federal government requires states that run Learnfare programs to evaluate their effectiveness in meeting the goal of improving recipients' attendance and high school graduation rates, which is expected to increase their odds of employment and self-sufficiency.
Ohio Evaluation. Under the Ohio program, mothers who reenroll in school after dropping out and those already attending school are paid a $ 62 monthly bonus as long as they attend school regularly. Teens who miss more than two days a month without a valid excuse have their AFDC grant reduced by this amount. Ohio researchers found that 61. 3% of Learnfare participants who were already enrolled in a school or adult education program remained enrolled in these programs for 10 our of 12 months studied or graduated. This compared with 51. 1% of the control group participants whose AFDC benefits were unaffected by school attendance, which is considered statistically significant. Most of the retention was in high school, as opposed to adult education enrollment. Of those teens who were not enrolled when Learnfare eligibility began, 46. 8% returned, compared to 33. 4% of the control teens. And of these returnees, 12. 5% were enrolled for at least 10 months (indicating they quickly resumed their education), versus 6. 1% of the control group. The researchers found that Learnfare's impact on enrollment was significant for most subgroups of teens, but as less significant for older teens and those who had two or more children.
The attendance rates showed similar experiences. Here, the researchers looked at a “typical” four-week period during the 1990-91 and 1991-92 school years to get a picture of enrollment and attendance at a particular point in time. Learnfare teens attended school 5. 9 days, while the control group attended 4. 4 days. Again, the difference was statistically significant.
Wisconsin Evaluation. Wisconsin's Learnfare program requires certain children between the ages of six and 19 to attend school. If they do not, their family's AFDC benefit is reduced by the child's share of the benefit. Both the Wisconsin and U. S. social services departments disputed the results of the program's initial evaluation study, which indicated that although one-third of Learnfare students showed improved attendance, over half showed poorer attendance. It also showed that (1) during the three-year study period, the percentage of Milwaukee high school students with excessive absences continued to increase and (2) the graduation rates for Milwaukee teens subject to Learnfare were the same (22%) as those of a control group not subject to the sanctions.
A more recent evaluation conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau concluded that Learnfare had no detectable effect on school participation. But the study will continue for at least six semesters to see if the trend continues. (An OLR report, 96-R-0493 attached, summarizes the results of the Ohio and Wisconsin evaluations in detail. )
No Pass No Drive Restrictions
A 1996 Education Commission of the States report identified 13 states that withhold or withdraw the driver's licenses of students who drop out of school or are habitually truant. They include Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. In addition, (1) California permits the juvenile court to suspend, restrict, or delay a youngster's license if he is an habitual truant and a ward of the court and (2) Illinois prohibits truant students or dropouts from taking driver training, which is required for a license. Wisconsin, which also ties licenses to attendance, permits counties and localities to enact ordinances prohibiting the suspension of licenses for nonattendance.
Most states' laws are modeled on West Virginia's, which was the first state to enact such a law in 1988. Usually, if a high school student drops out of school or is truant (absent without an excuse) for a certain number of consecutive days (10 in West Virginia) or a certain number (15) in one semester, the school notifies the Motor Vehicle Department which sends the student a notice of license suspension. The student must surrender the license within 30 days or a police officer picks it up. A probationary period of attendance (from four weeks to a semester) is usually required for the license to be reissued.
No Pass No Drive Evaluations
Though no formal reliable evaluations of these state programs are available, Therese Wilson, director of student services and assessment for the West Virginia Education Department, reports that the state's dropout rate has declined from 20% when the program started to 16% currently and the attendance rate as increased from 92% to 93. 6%. She points out that it is not possible to attribute those changes solely to the license revocation program, because other school reforms have been enacted that probably have also contributed to the improvement. But officials there believe the program has been a positive factor. (A 1989 report, 89-R-0779, summarized the program, a related court case, and criticisms).
A 1989 Connecticut act required the motor vehicles and education commissioners to study the feasibility of suspending the driver's licenses of 16 and 17 year olds who drop out of school for reasons other than health or economics and to report their findings and recommendations to the legislature. The report found that (1) there would be significant costs associated with implementing such a program in Connecticut, (2) there maybe measures to deter students from dropping out that would be educationally more appropriate, and (3) potential dropouts would be more appropriately served by an early intervention program. The commissioners did not recommend the enactment of a program of mandatory suspension of driver's licenses but instead recommended an in-depth study of ways to deter dropouts.
A 1990 bill generally embodied the provisions of these other states' laws. It would have prohibited a driver's license from being issued to individuals between 16 and 18 years of age if they are not enrolled in school or have not graduated from high school unless:
1. they are enrolled and making satisfactory progress in a GED program,
2. they are employed for at least 35 hours a week,
3. they are emancipated minors, or
4. their school superintendent determines that their withdrawal from school and failure to meet the above criteria is due to circumstances beyond their control.
The bill also provided for mandatory suspension of a student's driver's license under the same conditions and with the same exceptions. The bill was favorably reported by the Education Committee but died in the Judiciary Committee. The same bill was introduced in the Transportation Committee in 1992 (SB 288) but did not receive a favorable report. Two proposed bills promoting this concept were introduced in 1993 (HB 5241) and 1995 (HB 6053) in the Education and Transportation committees respectively. Neither was raised for a public hearing.