City pays students $100 each to not skip school

posted at 2:45 pm on August 24, 2011 by Tina Korbe

Wish my high school would have done this … I would have been rich. The city of Camden, NJ, recently implemented a program to pay students to not skip school. NBC Philadelphia reports:

The city of Camden will be paying almost 70 high school students $100 each to go to school in the first three weeks of the year.

Funded by a grant that must be used by Sept. 30, the city is trying to fight truancy with a new program called I Can End Truancy (ICE-T), reports the Inquirer.

To receive the promised $100, each of the 66 targeted students must attend classes as well as conflict-resolution and anger-management workshops until Sept. 30.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, to find kids to fill the program, the city contacted school district officials and then aggressively called parents to inform them about the program. About 25 percent of the students in the program are chronically truant students, while the rest are borderline truants or among those who “attend school but need help.”

The students will receive the cash three weeks into the school year simply because the city has to spend the grant money by Sept. 30 or risk not receiving the grant next year. (The grant comes from the state Department of Criminal Justice.) That means the city has no real leverage after Sept. 30 to ensure the high schoolers in the program actually attend class — other than a pledge the students will fill out upon completion of the program.

Amazingly, some students might receive the money even if they’re absent occasionally during the first three weeks of school. Absences will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, Wren Ingram, the director of the program, said. “Every story is different,” Ingram said, adding that many of Camden’s youths face “extraordinary things” — lack of proper nourishment at home, for example.

Nothing in the Inquirer article confirms the program isn’t open to model students — but it does imply the city targeted truant children. That means this is yet another example of government intervention that will likely yield unintended consequences. Far from incentivizing ideal behavior, this program actually incentivizes misbehavior. Why attend school when skipping means you might be targeted for a program in which you’ll score $100 simply for doing what you would have done in the first place?

At least it’s a local program, I suppose. But locals aren’t happy about it. In fact, according to NBC Philadelphia, 100 percent of respondents (doesn’t say how many respondents) said this story makes them feel “furious” (other options were “sad,” “thrilled,” “happy,” “bored” and “intrigued”).

It also illustrates the lengths to which local governments will go to retain state funding and to meet state mandates (the state demands schools achieve 90 percent attendance rates). Presumably that lesson can be extrapolated — states, too, contort themselves into uncomfortable positions to ensure they receive federal dollars and to meet federal requirements.

But, above all, it underscores a point that can’t be hammered home enough: So many of our societal ills start at home, up to and including the debt and deficit. The government wastes taxpayer dollars time and again as it tries to approximate the edifying and stabilizing influence of family life. The question shouldn’t be, “How do we end truancy?” or “How do we fight childhood obesity?” or “How do we help kids avoid self-destructive behaviors like drug use or promiscuity?” The question should be, “How do we shore up our families?” And even that — increased support for the family — can’t come from the government. It will have to come from our culture, from neighbor to neighbor, from personal accountability to others. We can start with the obvious — by, for example, not rewarding the wrong.

Update: This story originally stated Camden was in Pennsylvania when, in fact, it’s in New Jersey. The post has been corrected above.


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