State ends debt collection for truancy tickets

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ top financial official has banned local governments from using a state program to collect debt from students who have been convicted of truancy, eliminating a burden on families struggling to pay heavy fines.

Meanwhile, a number of school districts across the state have begun to scale back and reevaluate when to involve law enforcement in student discipline.

The moves come after an investigation by the Tribune and ProPublica, “The Price Kids Pay,” found that school officials and police were working together to fine students for misbehavior at school, resulting in fines that can cost hundreds of dollars per ticket. When students or their families failed to pay, local governments sometimes turned to the state for help collecting the money.

The state has told municipalities that starting June 11, they will no longer be able to submit truancy debts for collections, according to an email from the Illinois Comptroller’s Office to municipalities that participate in the truancy program. recovery of local state debts.


The investigation found that punishing students with tickets violates the intent of a state law that prohibits schools from issuing disciplinary fines. Although they do not directly fine students, schools have called in the police so that students can be ticketed and, in most cases, fined.
Another state law prohibits schools from notifying the police of students who are truant so officers can ticket them.

The investigation found dozens of school districts where students have received truancy tickets since the law took effect in 2019.

A spokeswoman for Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza said her office decided to bar collection of truancy debts because state law is clear that schools are not allowed to request fines for students who skip school. The comptroller’s office has not stopped collecting other types of student ticket debt, the spokesperson said.

The investigation documented at least 11,800 tickets issued over the past three school years to students in public schools across the state. Most of the tickets identified were for violating local anti-fight ordinances, possessing or using tobacco or vaping, consuming small amounts of cannabis, or absenteeism.

The Tribune-ProPublica investigation documented 1,830 truancy tickets issued over the past three school years in about 50 school districts. Police continued to ticket students for truancy in more than 40 districts after the 2019 law took effect.

Local governments can try to collect outstanding student ticket debt through private collection agencies or the state collection program. Municipalities using the state program send information about the debt to the comptroller’s office without indicating the reason for the fine or the age of the debtor. Since the state doesn’t know if it’s pursuing a youth’s debt or if it was related to truancy, it’s up to local governments to follow the comptroller’s directive.

The prohibition on collecting truancy debts applies to tickets issued by the police to students or their parents or guardians.

Just hours after the investigation was released last month, Illinois’ top education official, Superintendent Carmen Ayala, told principals to ‘immediately stop’ working with police to verbalize students, claiming that “the only consequences of tickets are to impose a financial burden”. on already struggling families and make students feel even less supported, less welcome and less included at school.

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