Every year an estimated 20 percent of the DC public school population miss at least 15 days of school, according to DC government officials, and that's one of the worst ratios across the nation.
DC mayor Vince Gray said at a recent press conference that kids who don't get a high school diploma make in upwards to 80 percent less than graduates in there lifetime.
That 20 percent represents thousands of students and during a routine city council meeting DC Council members showed great concern at looking for solutions that would decrease truancy and increase graduation rates in the the DC Public Schools (DCPS) system.
The city council has long made education and truancy a focus, but has recently attempted to refocus its attention on the problem with DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), and DC Council education committee chairman, David Catania (I-At Large). Both men have been more vocal about truancy and basically pointed the finger at the city's school system and bureaucratic juggling of other city departments.
The Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), which is designed to address the city's booming truancy problem only has seven students enrolled into their truancy program.
The Washington Post reported,
At the urging of the council, the school system is now referring many more truant students to the city’s child welfare agency, as is required by law, than it was before. Last year, schools referred 21 percent of truants ages 5 to 13 to the Child and Family Services Agency; now that number is up to 93 percent.
All of this weights heavy on DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson's shoulders, who testified before the DC Council by stating that things won't change unless immediate action is taken by other DC government officials. Until others change direction, Henderson admitted that she's been proactive by adding more social workers and placing them where truancy is most rampant.
The Post further reported,
Henderson said dealing with truancy means her staff need to engage parents before truancy becomes a problem, and her schools need to offer the kind of exciting programs that make students want to come to school.
DC resident and parent Horace Dillion said he's saddened by Henderson's comments.
"I think it's sad that the city have to find ways to entice a kid to go to school," he said. "I remember when going to school, getting an education, and graduating from high school was enough to motivate a kid to go to school. Nowadays we have to almost pay a kid and give them something for them to want an education - so what's really going on here?"
Dillion said he was referring to the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which offers summer employment for public school students. Henderson wants the SYEP student paychecks to be based on school-year attendance.
An area that some Washingtonians were not pleased with was when Chancellor Henderson spoke on why it is believed that people skip school. She mentioned that people skip school because they cannot read or are overly frustrated by academics, The Post reported she said.
Councilman Catania is trying to address the problem with a new education bill that will heavily enforce an current education bill. The existing law says that if a DC public school student have two or more unexcused absences, the students parents could receive a $100 fine and/or up to 5 days in jail. Catania wants to make it 10 days instead of five, and parents would be able to avoid prosecution if parents requested parenting aid from CFSA.
All the work on developing solutions haven't been thought up just by the DC Council and Henderson. Recently, the Mayor unveiled an anti-truancy campaign as a way to a measure to correcting the problem.