Schuitmaker truancy legislation advances to House

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker

LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate on Thursday approved legislation aimed at keeping students in the classroom.

“While our current law requires children to be in school, it is unclear on what truancy means,” said state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, one of the package’s leading sponsors. “Schools across the state have implemented different truancy policies, which has placed administrators and the courts in a difficult position as they work to remedy attendance problems.”

Senate Bills 103-106 would establish definitions for both “truancy” and “chronic absenteeism” in the state’s school code. Truancy would be defined as having a minimum of 10 unexcused absences in a school year, while chronically absent would be defined 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.

When asked why this legislation is needed, Schuitmaker said students who miss more and more class time struggle academically, face a decreased chance of graduating and are more likely to fall into the criminal justice system. She added that because dropouts are more likely to face prison time, the state has a strong interest in keeping kids in the classroom and ensuring they receive a proper education and skills to succeed.

“Nearly half of the Michigan prison population does not have a GED or high school diploma,” Schuitmaker said. “We need to also look at this as a cost-saving measure. Each prisoner costs the state about $37,500 per year and spends an average of four years behind bars. Those numbers add up very quickly.”

The legislation also includes measures that seek not only to prevent kids from missing class, but also to determine the underlying reasons for student absences. Included are provisions that prohibit children from being suspended or expelled solely for truancy or chronic absence from school.

“Our current system relies too heavily on punishment versus finding solutions,” Schuitmaker said. “More often than not, the response is to suspend the student, which only further removes them from the classroom and resources they need to be successful. This does nothing to address the reason the student was absent in the first place or help find the resources they need to keep themselves out of any future trouble.

“We owe it to our students to ensure that they thrive in the classroom and stay out of the courtroom.”

SBs 103-106 will now go before the Michigan House of Representatives for further consideration.