Bryan Caplan  

Prosecuting Truancy

Leonard Liggio RIP... It's the economy, stupid ...
How are compulsory attendance laws actually enforced?  A preliminary search turned up some surprising claims, especially this:
Truancy charges can result in large fines, jail time, and a criminal record for students in Texas--one of only two states (along with Wyoming) that prosecute truancy as a crime in adult courts. Adult courts do not provide the same protections as civil juvenile courts, including a right to appointed counsel.

Texas adult courts pursued about 113,000 truancy cases against Texas children ages 12-17 in FY 2012-- more than double the number of truancy cases prosecuted that year in the other 49 states combined.

Dallas County operates the largest truancy court system in Texas. Almost three-quarters of the courts' budget is supported by truancy fines assessed students and parents. In FY 2012, Dallas Country truancy courts collected $2.9 million in fines, according to county reports.

Last year alone, Dallas County truancy courts prosecuted over 36,000 truancy cases--more than any other Texas county and nearly three times more than Harris County, home to the state's largest school district (Houston ISD).
Yes, these claims come from a legal complaint filed against some Texas school districts.  But since these are narrowly legal claims rather than statistical inference, I'm inclined to trust them.  Anyone know more?  What's going on in other states?  Please show your work.

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COMMENTS (7 to date)
RPLong writes:

I'm speculating, but this strikes me as the kind of policy aimed at harassing those segments of the population who are most likely to have children who must miss school in order to work or stay at home to look after even younger children, i.e. poor people and illegal immigrants.

Because people can always play dumb, open their eyes up really wide, throw up their hands and say, "But if a rich person's kids miss school, we'll come after them, toooooo!!" society lets this sort of thing continue. But they're not fooling anyone.

James Gaulte writes:

"Adult courts do not provide the same protections as civil juvenile courts, including a right to appointed counsel."

Am I misreading what you said? Isn't it true that a defendant in adult court has the right to an appointed attorney if he can't afford one.Although this may not apply for non felonies, i.e. facing jail time of less than one year.

Floccina writes:

When I was a kid there was a gang of tough kids who all stopped going to school before the 6th grade. I got the impression that everyone was happy about that. Also there were others who almost never showed up at school. I wonder how much things have changed, do they really prosecute many people for truancy today?

awp writes:

"believe us, we are arresting, jailing, and fining you for your own good."

Jay writes:


Truancy is not the same thing has dropping out of school to work or watch siblings. If you surveyed those fined by the laws, I doubt the % reached 5% for those that were "forced" to be truant and more likely they're just skipping school.

Granite26 writes:

I'm curious how this interacts with Texas' thriving home schooling culture. Is it possible that the two are related? That one of the side effects of a (relatively) large number of home schooled children is the need to be more strict with actual students not in school?

i.e. There's a lot more kids validly not in school, so it's harder to point at a random kid not in class and go after him because he might be home schooled and thus ok, so the penalty for actually getting caught goes up?

Duncan Frissell writes:

It seems that a fair number of homeschoolers do get bothered by truant officers in Texas. See this HSLDA Texas page:

Looks to me like dedicated truancy enforcement may be revenue related as in this Pennsylvania story:

Texas has loose home schooling regs btw, and Pennsylvanias are tougher.

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