Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed into a law that will decriminalize truancy in the state.
House Bill 2398 was signed into law making truancy a civil offense, and no longer will students be jailed for the act of failing to attend school. The bill will go into effect on September 1, 2015.
Critics of the previous law argue that it not only came with a hefty of price tag of up to $500 in addition to court costs, but it unfairly affected minority and poor students who could not afford the fees and were often placed into the criminal justice system. In addition, the law was not keeping children in school.
“Criminalizing unauthorized absences at school unnecessarily jeopardizes the futures of our students. The process of elevating our state’s education system to be number one in the nation begins in the classroom, and I signed House Bill 2398 to ensure Texas educators have the tools necessary to prevent truancy, encourage classroom attendance and focus on educating our children to ultimately set our students on a pathway toward success,” Abbott said in a statement.
Under the previous law, which saw students as young as 12 being sent to court if they had racked up three unexcused absences within four weeks, the state had prosecuted more than twice the number of students and parents than all other 49 states combined. Last year alone saw 100,000 Class C Misdemeanors for truancy handed down across Texas. In 2013 there were 115,000 such citations, reports Merrill Hope for Breitbart.
Students who had obtained more than 10 unexcused absences within 6 months had a misdemeanor failure to attend school charge filed against them by their school. Some of those who were unable or unwilling to pay the fines owed jail time once they had turned 17.
There are currently only two states in the country, Texas and Wyoming, who send truants to adult criminal court. The Texas Office of Court Administration estimated that over $10 million was collected in court costs and fines from truant Texas students in the 2014 fiscal year.
In 2012, the nonprofit advocacy group Texas Appleseed filed a Justice Department complaint concerning the specialty truancy courts in Dallas County, which prosecuted over 36,000 cases that year – more than any other county in the state.
Just this March, the Justice Department began an investigation into whether students had received due process. Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said the investigation will continue as the department also looks into the success of the new legislation.