Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Texas Education Reform Targets Truancy

Three truancy related bills are circulating the Texas state legislature.

The previously reported SB 1234 establishes programs to prevent and combat truancy. The law also makes truancy a criminal offense. The bill has passed the Texas Senate. The bill has circulated the various House committees and submitted with a favorable recommendation. It may soon see a house floor vote.

SECTION 7.  Subsection (e), Section 25.094, Education Code, is amended to read as follows: 
       (e)  An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed: 
             (1)  $100 for a first offense; 
             (2)  $200 for a second offense; 
             (3)  $300 for a third offense; 
             (4)  $400 for a fourth offense; or 
             (5)  $500 for a fifth or subsequent offense.

Two related bills originated in the Texas House of Representatives. HB 1021 designates judicial jurisdiction for hearing cases regarding the criminal charge of "truancy". This truancy bill is directed at truant students. The House passed the bill. It has been engrossed and forwarded to the Texas Senate.

(2)  a justice court designated to hear cases arising under this section [of any precinct] in the county in which the individual resides or in which the school is located, or if no justice court is designated, a justice court of any precinct in the county in which the individual resides or in which the school is located;

The second truancy bill targets the parents of truant students, if they are accused of directly causing the truancy or negligently failing to cease the truancy.

relating to venue for the offense of a parent contributing to a child's failure to attend school.
       SECTION 1.  Section 25.093(b), Education Code, is amended to read as follows: 
       (b)  The attendance officer or other appropriate school official shall file a complaint against the parent in:
             (1)  the constitutional county court of the county in which the parent resides or in which the school is located, if the county has a population of 1.75 million or more; 
             (2)  a justice court designated to hear cases arising under this section [of any precinct] in the county in which the parent resides or in which the school is located, or if no justice court is designated, a justice court of any precinct in the county in which the parent resides or in which the school is located

Possible Intentions of Truancy Bills

Truancy can be a problem for Texas public schools. Some Texas schools have begun employing RFID chips in student ID cards in order to track attendance. This practice has already drawn controversy since the school districts admitted that low attendance numbers inversely affect state and federal funding. If students aren't showing up to school, the schools do not receive ADA funding.

ADA Funding is the program that allocates some of a school's financing based upon Average Daily Attendance. A calculations is done to determine the average attendance and how much, per student, per day, the school receives. While the program could easily be reconfigured into a voucher program, it currently is used for only public and some open-enrollment charter schools.

In effect, it is a "bonus" given to the school based upon the number of students enrolled and how many actually attend a minimum portion of a school day. It is also a means to redistribute wealth. See this publication from the Texas Education Administration (TEA) on how ADA and other school financing programs work.

In many areas of the state, drop-out and truancy rates may be responsible for lower than expected school assessments and ratings. Texas prides itself of the achievements of its public and open-enrollment charter schools.

Texas has a growing economy. Many companies are relocating to Texas due to many opportunities for growth and prosperity. Those employers need skilled and educated employees. Most programs that create those skilled workers and jobs require a high school diploma or equivalent. Curbing truancy is essential to continuing this growth.

The growing drop-outs and will be unable to fill those positions. In addition, they will increase the number of unemployed workers in the state. Along with the lack of employment opportunities due to a lack of education and certification, these drop-outs will increase tax-payer burdens for programs such as SNAP (food stamps), medical expenses, and housing subsidies.

Truancy Bill Help Immigration Reform

The truancy bills are also intended to assist immigration reform. Many students become truant due to their immigration status. Children smuggled across the border at a young age are raised as though they are American citizens. However, they are in the country illegally due to no action of their own. These students commit truancy in order to avoid deportation or prosecution.

Furthermore, the bills target so-called "anchor babies". "Anchor babies" are native born American citizens of illegal immigrant parents. Out of fear of deportation or prosecution, the parents will remove the students from school. The students and parents are then guilty of truancy.

The programs to prevent and combat truancy place these students into state-directed programs established by SB 1234. The intent is to keep them in school and the parents from fleeing to elsewhere in the US. If the children are also in the country illegally, the bill may inspire them to self-deport. In the case of "anchor babies", the programs make it more difficult for the illegal immigrant parents to leave the country with the American citizen child.

Possible Implications of Truancy Bills on School Choice

The three bills draw questions from advocates of school choice. The largest demographic of school choice advocates affected are those who promote and participate in home-schooling.

Though new Texas laws prohibit use of the Common Core State Standards Initiative and other nationalized scholastic standards, there is much controversy over the CSCOPE program. Many in opposition of CSCOPE claim it is a "backdoor effort to sneak Common Core" into Texas school curricula. Members of the Texas Legislature, such as Senator Patrick, have been working to reform and regulate CSCOPE.

However, many parents are still concerned. Some of those concerned parents are seeking and researching the option of home-schooling their children. Many national studies on home-schooling have revealed that home-schooled students perform better in colleges and universities.

These truancy bills may be seen to target home-schooling households. None of the three bills address home-schooling. The criminal offenses they create appear as though they can be used to prosecute home-school families under the crime of "truancy".

This seems to take education reform and school choice initiatives in a reverse direction. Parents considering home-schooling are urged to review Texas state laws regarding home-schooling, truancy, school choice, education code, education standards, and other associated laws in making their decisions.