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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Cash for class: Ohio may pay students to show up at school

Ohio may pay students to show up at school, reports Laura A. Bischoff in the Columbus Dispatch. Under the proposed pilot program, kindergarten and ninth-grade students could receive $25 every two weeks, $150 a quarter or $500 at the end of the year for attending school at least 90 percent of the time. A control group would not be paid for attendance.

In addition, the bipartisan bill calls for cash rewards for students who graduate from low-performing schools: Graduates could get $250 for completing a diploma and another $250 for a grade point average of B or better. Graduates with a GPA of 3.5 or higher could receive $750.

About a third of Ohio students -- 44 percent of those from low-income families -- miss more than 10 percent of school days. Chronic absenteeism has doubled since before the pandemic.

Absenteeism is a crisis, said co-sponsor Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, reports

Jo Ingles for the Statehouse News Bureau. “So, we’ve tried pizza day and we have tried playground hours and we have tried all kind of foo-foo stuff. It doesn’t seem to work," Seitz said. "So let us talk about the immediacy of a payment in cash. Cash is king. Cold, hard cash. . . . Maybe the pizza’s not as good as it should be. I don’t know."

The pilot would cost $1.5 million. Sponsors argue it would save the state money if it lowers the need for dropout recovery and produces more high school graduates.

Ohio's problems are typical. Nationwide, only 90 percent of students are in class on a typical day, according to a federal survey. “We simply cannot accept chronic absenteeism as the new normal,” Neera Tanden, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said. “Students have to be present if they are to learn.”

Two-thirds of schools face severe chronic absenteeism in 2021-22, reported Attendance Works in October. That's up from 25 percent before the pandemic. In other words, seeing school as optional is the new normal.

Rewarding perfect attendance is out of fashion, writes Lydia McFarlane for Education Week. The "pandemic seemed to have shifted attitudes, with schools advocating for mental health days and encouraging students to stay home while they were sick to stop the spread of illnesses."

In addition, some say attendance awards are "not equitable to students of all backgrounds," she writes. Most researchers say awards -- typically certificates, pizza or a raffle rather than "cold, hard cash" -- are not effective.

Paying students for good grades or higher test scores has mixed results, writes Arianna Prothero in Education Week. If students don't know how to improve their performance, they won't try. Of course, showing up at school every day isn't rocket science.

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