For years, the Philadelphia's District Attorney's Office has been making the case that the threat of criminal charges will nudge parents to do more to keep their kids from skipping school. In turn, school officials insist that they're doing everything they can and that criminalizing unexcused absences is not a winning strategy.
The debate was recently rehashed at a City Council hearing, probably because one statistic hasn't changed much: Over the course of a full school year, about 40 percentof Philadelphia public school students are considered truant because they have six or more unexcused absences.
When the weather begins to warm up and the school year winds down, student absences really start picking up.
"I mean, obviously, our great concern is the 40 percent," said Karyn Lynch of the School District of Philadelphia in an interview.
She said the District is doing quite a bit to stop kids from playing hooky. If students miss one day, their parents get a robo-call. If missing class becomes a pattern, the city's Department of Human Services becomes involved.
"And DHS actually goes into the homes. They go into the schools. They talk to the parents. They look at the social issues that exist in the household that are preventing a child from coming to school on an ongoing basis," Lynch said.
For District Attorney Seth Williams, that strategy isn't curbing absenteeism enough. And driving the truancy number down, he argues, can help cut crime.
If a student misses more than 10 days of school without an excuse, the District Attorney's Office will send a warning letter stating that if the parent doesn't act, he or she could be facing a charge of endangering the welfare of a child. More than 50 charter schools participate in the program, but no District schools do.