GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Starting Monday, state aid payments will be directly tied to kids going to school. The goal of the new statewide policy is to make sure more kids show up more of the time.
The same day the new state law went into effect, West Michigan's largest school district took a look at its own truancy policy. The Grand Rapids Public Schools district has not had a definitive truancy policy on the books since April.
The Michigan Department of Human Services will require children ages 6 to 15 to attend school full time to keep their family eligible for welfare cash benefits. Kids 16 and 17 will also lose benefits if they don't go to school, but according to DHS they will only lose individual benefits.
GRPS board members stressed at Monday night's meeting that they want to make sure they're consistent -- especially because some families' livelihoods may depend on it.
Felicia Smith says she understands how some people may think the new state law may be targeting the underprivileged.
But, she said as a person who has received state aid before, "you should want your child to go to school, really."
Smith said no matter what else was going on in her life, it was always important to send her daughter, now 18, to school.
"I think that everybody needs to make sure your kids are in school, for one," said Smith. "Especially in the GRPS, the dropout rate is so high. There's no need for that if you're doing your job as a parent."
Right now, nearly a quarter of all GRPS students have missed more than 18 days of school per year.
That statistic, combined with what GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal learned on her listening tour, has led to the board's new proposed policy.
If the proposal goes into effect, that would mean high school students could potentially fail a class if they're absent 12 or more times per semester, whether those absences are excused or not.
"We have high expectations," said GRPS spokesperson John Helmholdt. "And frankly, getting to school every day on time is not really that high of an expectation."
Helmholdt said the district looks at the state's new policy as just another tool in the box to make sure kids get an education.
He said the district plans to use it as a last resort when all other district fail safes -- like getting truancy officers and counselors involved -- hasn't worked. He said those fail safes kick in when any student misses school.
"If, by all means, those things fail then you have a situation of child neglect on your hands. You have a situation where you may need to contact Child Protective Services because there's something that's happening on the home front where mom, dad, parent, guardian are not tending to the basic needs of that child, and that starts with making sure they're in school every day," said Helmholdt.
The state's new policy only applies to people applying for state aid for the first time on Oct. 1 or later, and for those who have to renew their applications.
The superintendent said Monday night she plans to meet with several different agencies around the county later this week to discuss the truancy policy and how it will, and should, be implemented at GRPS.
The district policy is expected to be voted on at the board's next meeting in two weeks.
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