By Tiff J

In what seems like yet another law aimed at the poor, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has helped usher in a strict new truancy policy that targets low-income families.

Starting October 1st, parents whose children have accumulated a significant number of absences [10 or more unexcused absences per year] or who don’t attend school could lose their cash assistance from the state. Children between the ages of 6-15 are required to attend school full-time lest their parents become ineligible for state assistance.

According to CBS Detroit, the 2011-12 school years in Michigan counted 93,408 cases of truancy; an increase of approximately 10,000 from the previous year. “The intent is, this is cash assistance for people with kids and you need to be responsible,” spokesman for the Department of Human Services, David Akerly said in a statement. “It’s a carrot and stick.” The state currently has about 59,000 people who depend on cash assistance from the state. The new policy affects all new cash-assistance applicants, and they’ll be required to prove school enrollment and attendance when they apply for aid. Welfare recipients with children ages 6 and older will have to prove school attendance during annual redetermination reviews. School leaders believe once the policy is enacted, this will somehow solve the state’s truancy problem. The state admittedly has several full-time social workers in its public schools to try to help quell the truancy issue.

While this new law seems as if its intention is to put the onus on parents, to take a more active role in their children’s education and hold them accountable, and the popular word amongst the general populace is “It’s about time!”, I’m not sure it will have the intended impact it’s seeking or that it’s a viable long-term solution, particularly since it could negatively (and further) affect those students the policy targets. It’s a course of action that seems to pathologize and punish a specific segment of society and fails to take into consideration, those issues students from low-income families may grapple with, such as; physical and mental health issues, poverty, homelessness, transportation issues, a difficult home life, and other unforeseeable problems that’d induce school absences or poor school performance.

Using welfare assistance as a “carrot and stick” to patronize low-income families seems primed to further incite class-warfare… it prompts the us vs. those people mentality that continues to plague this highly-charged political climate, where 47% of this country’s population has already been written off as shiftless and unworthy because they don’t fall within the right economic bracket or weren’t born into, what’s deemed to be, the ‘right’ family dynamic.

Melissa Harris-Perry recently shed light on America’s willingness to help the poor while harboring disdain for welfare recipients, during a segment on her show earlier this month, and  some of the comments I‘ve come across on different news forums that reported the story, illustrate her point that “nothing is riskier than being poor in America”. The apparent tropes in some of those opinions about parents in need of state assistance and their children (most of whom are minorities  hanging on by the tips of their fingers) include, “Get a job!”, “Stop sitting around collecting a check and make your child(ren) go to school!” and “Poverty is just an excuse to miss school, because when I was young…” are ad hominem attacks that derail from core issues that plague public school students from low-income families, causing them to miss days or drop-out altogether. If truancy were as cut-and-dry as parents needing to “get a job”, then there’d be sense of urgency to address the issue to begin with; not every parent at the helm of a family in need of cash assistance from the state is unemployed or even an irresponsible parent.

Providing public schools and teachers with the tools they need- (on-site social workers and interventionists notwithstanding) – that’d enable them to implement programs, or a system that would identify at-risk students and get them the proper resources they need to finish school; penalizing families that are already at the lower-rung of the economic scale prompts me to wonder if this new policy is truly about helping improve education and attendance in the State of Michigan or if it’s about contempt for and a way to further marginalize those who rely on state assistance.