State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, believes that parents ought to lead by example in teaching their children to be responsible and productive members of society. His bill, SB 1317, which took effect Saturday, makes parents personally liable — and accountable — when their school-age kids don’t go to school.
Critics will say this is Leno’s latest foray into social engineering through the legislative process and the further perpetuation of the nanny state in California, but we see his bill differently. Yes, the San Francisco Democrat is an unabashed liberal and socially progressive legislator in a state that, in stark contrast to all but a handful of others, has never given up its love affair with either.
But SB 1317 seems to us to be a commonsensical step in the right direction, mainly because it acknowledges what any reasonable parent already knows, that kids who aren’t in school aren’t doing themselves or their communities any good. And parents who allow their kids to miss school or, even worse, promote their continued truancy aren’t just failing their own children.
They’re also contributing to the steep decline we’ve already seen in education, citizenship and economic competitiveness that will undoubtedly persist for generations.
What the bill does is to hold parents accountable for students who chronically miss class. The target population is 6-14 years of age, or kindergarten through junior high school. High school students somehow fall outside the new law, a flaw in its construction, as we see it, but the thinking is that if you can affect behavior at the outset, you improve the odds of changing it for the better in adolescence.
Children who have five unexcused absences aren’t just flagged under the new regimen. Instead, if the student is found to be “chronically truant,” his or her parents may be subject to a $2,000 fine and face up to a year in prison. How and when the new law will be enforced is open to interpretation, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t warranted or needed.
Because when kids play hooky from school, we all pay, which is why parents who allow or condone it shouldn’t be given a hall pass by the rest of us.