RI bill: No welfare for families of truant kids

Legislation under consideration in Rhode Island's General Assembly would require children to attend school at least 80 percent of the time in order for their families to qualify for Medicaid or welfare.

The proposal would require parents in a family receiving welfare or Medicaid help to sign an affidavit stating that their child has a school attendance rate of 80 percent of higher. The state's Department of Human Services would then verify the attendance rate and end benefits to any families whose children miss more than 20 percent of the school year.

Days missed because of illness wouldn't be counted against the student.

Jeannine Nota-Masse, assistant superintendent of schools in Cranston, said attendance is the district's biggest concern. But she doesn't think a bill that would punish the parents whose children are absent more than 20 percent would be affective.

"It's not punishing people for not being there, but making them understand that it's valuable and important for them to be there," she told NBC 10.

Judy Lundsten, superintendent of schools in Cranston, said there other efforts to try and combat truancy.

"When we see youngsters not showing up for school, we make phone calls, we send letters. We try to get the parents in for a parent conference to try to figure out if there's some other kind of support to give the parent to try and get them there. So, I think you have to be careful about punishing a parent at this point," she told NBC 10.

Democratic Rep. Stephen Casey of Woonsocket is the bill's main sponsor.

He said he's not committed to the details but wants to address what is accepted as a huge factor in students not finishing high school.

"I'm getting feedback from all sides. People feel that it's wrong to punish a parent who has a truant child who is very difficult to deal with. Other people feel it's wrong to punish a child whose parent is getting aid and not doing their job in getting them to school," Casey told NBC 10. "This may not be the answer but at least we're opening up the discussion."

The bill was scheduled to be reviewed Tuesday in the House Finance Committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.