Senate committee approves Schuitmaker plan to reduce truancy, chronic absenteeism

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LANSING, Mich. — The Senate committee on Families, Seniors and Human Services approved Legislation Wednesday that would update and clarify Michigan’s truancy laws.

Senate Bills 103-106 would amend Michigan law by clearly defining both “truancy” and “chronic absenteeism” in the state’s school code. The bills define truancy as having a minimum of 10 unexcused absences in a school year, while defining chronically absent as being absent for at least 10 percent of the scheduled school days in a school year, including both excused and unexcused absences, and absences due to disciplinary reasons.

“Our school administrators and courts deserve to have clear and consistent definitions of these terms and guidance on how violations should be addressed,” said state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who sponsored SBs 103 and 104. “Not having clear guidelines for students who fall into either category is a failure on the state’s part and does nothing to keep kids in the classroom.”

Schuitmaker argues that some prosecutors are hesitant to assist with truancy cases because the law is silent on what truancy means. Schools that do the work of tracking attendance should be assured that there is a plan in place to help address attendance problems.

“More often than not, a student who fails to show up to class is punished with expulsion or out-of-school suspension, which only further removes the child from the educational environment,” Schuitmaker said. “These bills would prevent a child from being suspended solely for being truant or chronically absent and outline solutions that facilitate a working relationship between the parents, the schools and the courts. The goal is to find out why the issue is occurring in the first place and how it can be corrected.”

Few people would disagree that students who miss school tend to struggle academically and are more likely to drop out. Data has shown a concrete link between excessive absences and low graduation rates and delinquency.

Schuitmaker says she feels something needs to be done because addressing a child’s struggles at an early age is a surefire way to curb the “school to prison pipeline.”

“Of the 8,800 people sentenced to prison in Michigan in 2012, 49 percent did not have a GED or high school diploma. It’s simply a fact that dropouts are less likely to be employed, and are often more likely to face poverty or prison time,” Schuitmaker said. “When you then consider that each prisoner costs the state about $37,500 per year, you can see that we have a vested interest in keeping our kids in the classroom and teaching them the value of a good education.”

SBs 103-106 will now go before the full Senate for further consideration.

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Editor’s note: A print-quality version of the above photograph is available by clicking on the image or by visiting the senator’s website at: www.SenatorTonyaSchuitmaker.com/photowire.

Photo caption: Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, and Midland County Probate Judge Dorene Allen testify before the Senate Committee on Families, Seniors and Human Services regarding the importance of Senate Bills 103-106.