Lawmakers eying punishments for parents of truant kids

Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 1:45 PM CST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - More than 87,000 students didn’t show up for this school year and lawmakers are working to find out why and where they are. It’s important so they can appropriately fund schools this fall. While some students likely moved to virtual or home schooling, others simply were not participating at all last year and some lawmakers are pushing for more accountability from parents.

There are a lot of reasons why 87,000 Florida students were unaccounted for this school year. Senate President Wilton Simpson, Republican from Spring HIll, believes a large chunk were so-called ‘redshirt kindergarteners’, who delayed starting school for a year.

“So I’m hoping that we discover that we have 65,000 redshirt freshmen going into kindergarten next year,” Simpson said.

But Representative Randy Fine, Republican from Palm Bay, believes a substantial number of students didn’t receive any education at all.

“I believe it’s a five figure number,” Fine said.

He says superintendents have done their best to try and get kids back in the system, but they need more tools to hold parents accountable.

“Parents know their kids are supposed to go to school. So, if their kids aren’t going to school, they’re abusing them. And so maybe we need this to be a form of child abuse and, yeah, maybe we do need to put parents in jail,” Fine said.

Regardless of why the students are unaccounted for, their presence or absence will impact state funding. The amount of funding received by school districts is directly tied to the number of students who actually show up in classrooms.

House Speaker Representative Chris Sprowls, Republican from Clearwater, sent a letter to superintendents urging them to do whatever it takes to find the missing students.

“Both from a moral obligation to make sure that those kids have an opportunity to learn, as well as from a budgetary standpoint as we build our K-12 budget, we need to be as accurate as humanly possible about how many kids we can expect to come back,” Sprowls said.

While most districts saw a decline in enrollment last year, three counties actually saw more students than they’d anticipated. Florida Virtual School also saw more than 14,000 additional students.

According to the October survey conducted by the Department of Education Bay County saw more students this school year than were expected.