School Attendance to Affect Welfare Benefits

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Skipping class is about to start hurting more than just students and their grades. It's going to start costing their families.

"Truancy is an issue, it has been for ever since I can remember being a student at school," said Victoria Burke, Jackson County's Attendance Officer of 18 years.

As part of Governor Snyder's crackdown on attendance in schools and public safety, the State Department of Human Services is implenting a new policy beginning October 1 that will effect families using cash assistance.

"High truancy rates, we're talking about higher crime rates, a less of a chance of succeeding in life, and we're trying to change that equation," DHS spokesperon David Akerly said.

Under the new policy, children ages 6-15 must attend school full time or their family will become ineligible for benefits. It's an extension of a previous policy that only included students ages 16-18.

"Cash benefits in Michigan are for children, dependent children," Akerly said. "Part of that process of being a parent is being responsible for them going to school, if you're going to be getting these benefits, for their benefit, you also need to make sure that they're going to class."

If a parent is applying or reapplying for assistance, they'll need to prove a child's enrollment and attendance. Akerly said that's usually as simple as a signed piece of paper from the district.

For most districts, "truant" means 10 unexcused absences. If a student is truant, Akerly said benefits will be suspened, but they can be reinstated.

"You'll come back in, and you will show that your child or children is back in class for 21 calendar days," Akerly said. "When you can do that from the district, from the school, we'll put you back on, and your benefit suspension will end."

Burke said her goal is just to get truancy levels down. She had almost 400 cases last year.

"The more we can support students being in school, the greater the opportunity is for them to be successful," Burke said.

Akerly said the policy is not retroactive. Any truancy problem in the past won't even be looked at.

The policy begins just two days before Michigan's count day in schools.

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