In Palm Beach County, approximately 27,500 elementary school students were absent eleven days or more during the 2016-17 school year. Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa “said he’s willing to consider drastic action, including having parents arrested if their children habitually skip school,” the Sun-Sentinel reported in August.
Chronic absenteeism, which in Florida’s Broward County is 18 or more missed days of school, has also become widespread elsewhere in the state. Last year, more than 20 percent of all high school students in Broward County were chronically absent, up from 12.3 percent the previous year.
Some jurisdictions are responding with criminal charges.
“Duval County, which includes Jacksonville, conducted a ‘truancy sweep’ in 2014, arresting 18 parents whose students were chronically absent,” the Sun-Sentinel reported. “They were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and failure to comply with compulsory school attendance laws. They faced up to a year in jail, although it’s unclear whether they were ultimately convicted, according to the Florida Times-Union.
“It’s also not clear whether it worked,” the Sun-Sentinel further reported. “The most recent absentee figures in Duval County shows [sic] that truancy doubled, The Times-Union reported.”
Opposes Compulsory Education
Arizona state Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City), who has spoken out in opposition to compulsory school attendance laws, says schooling should be a family decision.
“The parents need to be involved in the planning of their child’s future,” Mosley said. “Education is a privilege, not something to be shoved down every student’s throat.”
A major reason educators are concerned about absenteeism is “because [district] funding is completely based on the daily attendance of each student,” Mosley said.
Bill Mattox, director of the James Madison Institute’s Marshall Center for Educational Options, says public school proponents don’t like it when kids stay out of government schools, because they lose money if students leave.
“The way we fund public education assumes that a child in a particular ZIP code will attend a particular school in that district,” Mattox said. “As long as that exists, the people who run the school districts are going to be slow to encourage parents to consider alternative options.”
Illegal Alien Effects
Mattox says illegal immigrants’ fear of deportation may increase truancy, but punishing their parents isn’t the answer.
“There is a measure of chaos that would naturally contribute to even greater truancy among undocumented immigrants that can’t be overlooked,” Mattox said. “What we have is a school system that says, first, ‘You must attend one of our schools. You get no choice in the matter.’ And second, the schools claim that if a student does not attend class, it will sic the authorities on him or her.”
Restoring Parents’ Authority
Mattox says the undermining of parental authority and involvement is the real problem with the current system.
“When parents believe … that their choices will affect the wellbeing of their children, they typically rise to the occasion and do a better job,” Mattox said. “Parental choice makes parents better too, because agency encourages parents to go the extra mile and find out why certain schools are better than others.”
Cassidy Syftestad ([email protected]) writes from Hillsdale, Michigan.