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Winter 2017




Georgetown University Law Center




Students with poor attendance miss opportunities to learn social and academic skills.' They perform worse on achievement tests. 2 They are also less likely to graduate.3 A student who misses school in as early as the first grade is significantly more likely to eventually drop out of high school.4 Individuals who drop out see a significant loss in earnings and are more likely to be jobless; women who drop out make about 60% of what female high-school graduates earn, and men who do not graduate lose approximately $9,564 in annual wages. Because high-school dropouts earn less than those who do not 6 drop out, tax revenues are diminished. Further, the public spends more on safety-net assistance to those who fail to graduate. The dropout rate has also been linked to the United States' rising prison population: incarceration rates of individuals without a high-school degree are about sixty-three times higher than incarceration rates of those who graduate college. And young black men who leave high school face a nearly one in four chance of being in institutionalized in jail, prison, or a juvenile detention center. literature that suggests paying youth to attend school would be an effective method to tackle some types of chronic absenteeism. Finally, Part IV explores reasons why using cash incentives to encourage children to attend school regularly might be an ineffective way to address the obstacles facing chronically absent youth.

The Note concludes that although paying for attendance would likely reduce absenteeism among some students, it would not be a panacea to the challenges faced by the chronically absent. Instead, a pay-for-attendance program might create new obstacles to achievement. Although policymakers including federal, state, and local elected officials, as well as legislative and executive staff working on education and poverty-related causes-may be initially concerned with how incentives would impact students' self-motivation and whether cash rewards would be spent towards a socially useful or counterproductive end, these issues do not present insurmountable challenges to the success of a pay-for-attendance program. However, policymakers should be concerned that paying for attendance is likely to create thorny school disciplinary issues that could increase suspensions and bolster the school-to-prison pipeline. Thus, until further research clarifies how to avoid the harms of a pay-for-attendance program, such a policy is unlikely to help students more than it hurts them.

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