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Rick Snyder's Public Safety Plan Includes Fighting Truancy By Denying Cash Assistance

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) announced a plan to combat truancy in the state's schools that would ty state welfare benefits to school attendance.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) announced a plan to combat truancy in the state's schools that would ty state welfare benefits to school attendance.

Michigan families receiving state cash assistance could be soon penalized if their children skip class.

During a Wednesday address laying out his public safety plan, Gov. Rick Snyder asked the state Department of Human Services to link temporary cash assistance eligibility to school attendance for children of all ages. Under current policy, the funds are only tied to attendance for children ages 16-18.

As part of a new initiative to combat truancy, the governor also hopes to place more social workers in the 135 public elementary schools located in Flint, Detroit, Pontiac and Saginaw.

During his Wednesday address, Snyder pegged the anti-truancy push to his larger public safety message.

"Children who do not regularly attend school are more likely to confront the challenges of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and juvenile delinquency," he said.

There were 83,491 cases of truancy reported in Michigan public schools during the 2010-2011 school year.

But critics say truancy cases are often more complicated, and the plan would unfairly penalize families that are already struggling, making it even harder for them to keep their children in school. Any cuts to state cash assistance would come as an even harder blow to families that saw their benefits curtailed by the governor and state legislature last year.

Debra Hartman, who works with Flint schools in the Genesee Intermediate School District, told MLive poor parents often struggle with transportation and other issues that affect school attendance.

"Sometimes, it's parents just can't get them there because they're worried about other things in their family life," she said.

In Detroit, both failures in the district's bus system and the city's poor bus service often prevent students from getting to class.

Detroit Public Schools recommended 409 truancy cases to prosecutors last year. The district lost state funding because attendance rates did not meet the state standard of 75 percent on 46 different days, the Detroit News reports.

Law enforcement officials have used the city's low school attendance rates to justify random sweeps of youth in Detroit neighborhoods, and a multi-agency task force called Operation Safe Passage started conducting patrols in April 2011, apprehending 63 students at the time, according to the Detroit Free Press.

A more recent sweep on Feb. 6 of this year picked up almost 30 students for truancy, according to the Free Press.

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State politics and public safety