Colorado May Be About to Decriminalize Truancy

Will other states follow its lead?


Denver's CBS affiliate reports:

Lulu's goin' to JAIL!
John Stanley

Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, is introducing legislation aimed at decriminalizing truancy. Currently, when children cut classes a school can send them to court where they are ordered back to school. When they don't go they're found in contempt of court and ordered to jail.

While it's not tracked statewide, in some districts child advocates say more than 50 students a week are being referred to court….

"That should not happen," Holbert said. "Sending kids to jail—juvenile detention—for nothing more than truancy just didn't make sense. When a student is referred to juvenile detention, he or she is co-mingling with criminals—juveniles who've committed theft or assault or drug dealing."

The bill's counterpart in the state House is sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat, so this is a bipartisan measure. I can't link to the actual text of the legislation yet—Holbert tells me it's still being drafted—but whatever the details might be, the basic idea here is a good one.

The criminalization of truancy came out of the same policy moment whose harsh zero-tolerance policies have often pushed what once were ordinary school-discipline problems into the courts. (The same drive led to many more suspensions and explusions, truancy apparently being acceptable when the authorities have ordered it.) Colorado isn't the only state likely to tackle this issue in the near future: Texas, which hasn't just criminalized truancy but prosecutes it in adult courts, will probably consider a decriminalization bill in the spring. The Texas legislature passed a similar measure in 2013, but it was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.

Reason is a media sponsor of National School Choice Week, which focuses attention on how increasing options for students and parents can improve K-12 education. It runs from January 25-January 31. For more information, go here.