Benninghoff Bill to Combat Truancy and School Dropouts Becomes Law
November 04, 2016
Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) announced today that his bill to combat truancy and school dropouts has been signed into law by the governor. House Bill 1907, now Act 138, substantially amends the states truancy laws and policies, which had not been fundamentally changed since the early 1990s.
“I think we can all agree that just as important as directing funding to our classrooms is keeping students in the desks of those classrooms where they will learn the skills and knowledge necessary to lead productive, fulfilling lives,” Benninghoff said. “I thank my colleagues in both the House and the Senate for their overwhelming, bipartisan support of this important piece of legislation.”
In October 2015, in response to a House resolution sponsored by Benninghoff, the Joint State Government Commission released a comprehensive study on the issues of truancy and school dropout prevention in Pennsylvania. The report indicated that truancy is, in fact, an issue facing schools all across our Commonwealth. However, according to the report, Pennsylvania schools differed pretty substantially on how they defined and addressed truancy.
For example, districts differed on when to intervene, when notice should be provided to parents and when to contact local children and youth agencies. There were also differences in how current law was interpreted. It was also found that the state’s judicial system has often taken a mandatory approach to penalties, regardless of how those penalties, such as the incarceration of a parent or the suspension of a student’s driving privileges, would impact the success of the student.
Act 138 puts into place many of the recommendations from that comprehensive study in order to create a system that encourages school administrators, parents, students, teachers and the court system to work together, not against one another, to help students succeed, not just face penalty after penalty.
The act clarifies the procedure schools must follow with respect to children who are truant, having three or more days of unexcused absences during a school year, and habitually truant, having six or more days of unexcused absences during a school year.
The new law also provides relief for chronically ill children, requires schools to offer families a school attendance improvement conference before referring their child’s case to the court system and gives magisterial district justices more flexibility and discretion when issuing penalties. The legislation would also allow a student’s record to be expunged of up to two truancy convictions after withdrawing or graduating from high school, among other changes.
“Our Commonwealth invests billions of dollars annually in educating our children, but for young people to benefit from that investment they need to be in school,” Benninghoff said. “These students are our most valuable resource. It’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure their successful futures.”
Benninghoff’s legislation passed the House in May with a vote of 197-3 and passed the Senate unanimously in late October with a vote of 48-0. The House then sent the legislation to Gov. Tom Wolf to be signed into law by concurring on the bill with a vote of 185-6.