Seventy-five percent of all state prison inmates and 59% of federal inmates are high-school dropouts. Dropouts must compete for the lowest-paying jobs, and can expect to earn $260,000 less over a lifetime of work than high-school graduates. It is in our interest, and in the best interest of our children, to keep school in the picture for every student in King County.
These statistics are sobering and they explain why I, in partnership with key stakeholders, am taking a new approach to tackling this tough problem and finding new ways to convince kids to stay in school.
By law, students are truant if they miss more than seven days in a month or ten days in a semester. School district representatives must file a petition in Juvenile Court to start the process, but under my office’s new approach to truancy enforcement, kids are not required to come to court — at least at first. Instead, they get a letter from my office telling them that to avoid legal trouble they must attend a truancy workshop in their community. For many of these kids, and their parents, a letter from my office is the wake-up call that gets their attention.
The purpose of the truancy workshop is to divert kids from Juvenile Court and to provide a forum where parents, students, and school representatives have an opportunity to sit down together to identify and address the underlying issues that are contributing to the child’s truant behavior. Trained volunteer facilitators and community service providers are present at the workshops so that students and parents know that help is available to address a variety of concerns, such as drug and alcohol treatment, tutoring, and mental health treatment. The workshops are designed to keep kids out of the court system, connect them to services, and get them back to school.
Truancy is a red flag for parents, caring school representatives, and the criminal justice system. Keeping kids in school not only benefits the community, it is an effective way to help reduce crime.