Decriminalizing Truancy Up For Vote

Decriminalizing Truancy Up For Vote

Wichita Falls, TX-

Nearly 100,000 school children in Texas were ticketed for missing school and now some lawmakers are considering decriminalizing truancy.

Newschannel 6 did some digging to find out if truancy is a problem for the Wichita Falls Independent School District.

Like most school districts there is always a few students that find some reason to skip class or school. WFISD officials said those students are truants and they try to keep a close eye on them to ensure they stay in school and graduate on time. However, district leaders said if the state decriminalizes truancy those numbers may go down.

"Statistically it's been proven that the more time you're in a classroom, the more money you'll ultimately make," said Allyson Manley, a Wichita Falls parent of three WFISD students. "I think its very important that our children are in school."

Texas lawmakers agree, but some are proposing a bill that would decriminalize truancy.

Appleseed, a Texas advocacy group believes the way the state enforces truancy disproportionately harms low-income African American and Hispanic students, creating a school-to-prison pipeline instead.

Verna Honeycutt, Attendance & At Risk Coordinator at WFISD disagrees, "I know one of the big issues about the decriminalization is that these kids have a record. When they take their diploma to the truancy office, it's gone. The judge takes care of it. He expunges it."

A new bill, sponsored by Sen. John Whitmire of Houston wants to make truancy a misdemeanor punishable by graduated fines starting at $100.

"It's not just about them not attending school. Why are they not attending school?" said Honeycutt.

Newschannel 6 obtained the 2013-14 truancy rates for WFISD:

High school -13 percent 

Junior High - 4 percent 

Elementary - 0.8 percent

Honeycutt believes if lawmakers decriminalize truancy it will have an adverse affect on attendance and the district's graduation rate. 

"Decriminalizing is not going be good for Texas schools or any schools, because we have to have a way to hold these kids accountable," said Honeycutt.

"I always put it back on the parents, to make sure they're involved enough to know whats going on in that school and with that child," said Manley.

Last year, WFISD graduation rate was well over the state and national average at 94.6 percent.

The Texas Senate Panel has sent this bill up for vote in the full senate. 

Jimmie Johnson
, Newschannel 6