News Story

State Requires Welfare Truancy Sanctions, Can’t Say How Many Sanctioned

Household’s welfare benefits are cut off if a child is truant

More than 70 percent of students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District were chronically absent in the 2017-18 school year, according to a recently updated state database.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services does not know how many households have been removed from state welfare and assistance programs because their children were missing an extensive amount of school. But Michigan law requires the department to have a policy that cuts off households in the state’s Family Independence Program if a child is not meeting school attendance requirements.

The law authorizing sanctions for households whose children do not attend school full-time was enacted in 2015. At the time, the department reported that it had already implemented such a policy. A Senate Fiscal Agency bill summary said that 189 household groups had been sanctioned under the policy in the 2013-14 fiscal year. It also mentioned that 68 households had been penalized during the first three months of the following fiscal year.

When contacted by Michigan Capitol Confidential this month, the department said it did not have current figures on how many households had been sanctioned for truancy, and it would take a couple of weeks to get them. A spokesperson did, however, describe the procedures the department uses in truancy cases.

“Disqualification from the Family Independence Program only occurs after MDHHS exhausts opportunities to work with the family to address school attendance issues,” Bob Wheaton, a spokesperson for the department, said in an email.

According to Wheaton, the department takes several steps:

• Contacting the family about the truancy issue and initiating an attendance compliance test.

• Contacting the school/truancy officer.

• Assessing the needs of the family and any barriers to school attendance.

• Working with the family to develop an attendance plan.

• Providing services or referrals to services that could help remove barriers to attendance.

• Reviewing the progress of the plan as well as results of the attendance compliance test.

Wheaton said the number of households that had benefits suspended due to truancy was not readily available.

Republican State Board of Education member Tom McMillin does not agree with the 2015 bill that put the sanctions into state statute. McMillin said in an email that he is disturbed that the government is unaware of the number of families who have been denied assistance because of the law.

Regarding the effectiveness of such legislation, McMillin said there are too many variables that could lead to a child missing school.

“I just think there are many reasons why a child may not be attending the school,” he said. “And there may be times when they are truant and the family isn’t aware of it. I also am not so sure that compulsory attendance at government schools is a very good idea.”

According to the state of Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information, more than 70 percent of students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District were chronically absent. This means they missed at least 10 percent of the school days, or at least 18 days, based on a typical 180-day school calendar.