Marietta Times: Cure needed for increased school absences

In Ohio, the number of students missing a significant amount of school time has become such a concern that two lawmakers have pitched what may seem like an outlandish idea. State Reps. Bill Seitz, R-Green Twp., and Dani Isaacsohn, D-Evanston, want to establish a pilot program that would offer cash incentives for both attendance and high school graduation, according to a report by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“It’s about getting back to the culture of being in school every day,” Isaacsohn said.

Lawmakers and school officials are so desperate because approximately one-third of Ohio students miss at least 10% of school days. That’s a huge problem.

According to the Enquirer, House Bill 348 would allow districts to apply for the program, naming up to two school buildings with chronic absentee rates that put them in the top quartile. Then, the state would pick at least one urban and one rural district to participate.

From there, half of kindergarteners and half of ninth graders would be in a control group, which would not get payments, while the others would receive cash incentives. Three different payment configuration options would be tested.

If something feels a little icky about paying children to come to school, think about what the return on investment might be if it works. Should lawmakers determine such a plan is worth trying, they must also spend some effort on figuring out why so many children are chronically absent from school or dropping out, and whether government can do anything about it. Are we treating a symptom rather than seeking to cure the problem?

Lawmakers must not stop with one unusual idea on this one. If we are to get more of our kids to attend and stay in school, a multi-faceted and sustained approach will be essential.