SPECIAL REPORT: The Cost of Truancy

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WAUSAU (WAOW) — You see it across pop culture in movies and TV: kids skipping classes or missing school, and it often feels juvenile.

But the costs related to truancy, whether it’s school funding, fines, or societal impacts can begin to add up.

The impact is far bigger than you may realize, and when we don’t recognize the issue, it can be to late to solve. Therefore, it is important to establish good habits when it can feel elementary.

“At that age, they can’t really make up their mind if they want to go to school or not,” said Angela Lloyd, Interim Director of Pupil Services Wausau School District.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction says truancy is defined as missing a class without an acceptable excuse. Students can receive ten excused absences from class with a simple phone call.

“If I didn’t work in a school, would I necessarily know that? Maybe not,” said Brad Potter, Associate Principal Merrill High School.

Although missed time in class seems easily made up, educators disagree.

“If students are missing more than 10 days, they’re missing a significant amount of school and to get them caught up after that is very, very difficult.” Said Lloyd.

This is where the fees start to pile up. Educators know how important attendance is to school funding, but the lasting effects to the student is the biggest expense.

“Although I know that’s true, I rarely think about it because it’s more about the financial impact this is going to have on the one kid that’s sitting here right now,” said Potter.

Sometimes, parents don’t know many days their child has missed until they get the dreaded letter.

“As a principal, I’ve had to send some of those letters and parents would call in panicked and say, ‘I didn’t even realize,'” said Lloyd.

Once that number is met and it goes five days beyond, a student can be considered habitually truant, leading to truancy court.

“That’s costing court time; it’s costing parents money because they will be fined if their children are not in school,” said Lloyd.

In Wisconsin, parents can receive fines for the first offense of up to $500, or even go to jail for 30 days. This may seem harsh, but it is minimal compared to the societal costs.

According to data from the US Department of Education, bad attendance in school, is seen as a better predictor of whether a student will drop out than test scores.

The issue can be hard to grasp for teens.

“[A student] only realizes it through kid eyes, how this is going to impact them negatively for a long time,” said Potter.

Schools requirements are strict, but the job market isn’t as forgiving when entering the workforce — something educators try to stress when talking with students.

“Let’s pretend that’s my work attendance right there. At what point would my boss fire me?” said Potter.

Central Wisconsin ranks well in most districts compared to the state rate.

According to the most recent numbers available from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the Badger State sits at 9.5 percent truancy rate.

“Our focus should be making it zero,” said Gov. Tony Evers.

The real cost of truancy is pushed on to the community and our neighbors.

Although it might be a hidden issue, unless we take it out of our blind spot we might never see it coming.

Chase McNamara

Chase McNamara

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