In another election-year gesture to middle-class families with children, President Clinton Wednesday announced a new federally directed effort to curb school truancy.
Clinton told a National Education Association convention that the national standard should be “zero tolerance” for kids playing hooky.
“Truancy is a warning signal that a child is in trouble and is often a gateway to crime,” Clinton said. “The street is not an acceptable alternative to the classroom.”
Administration officials said truancy is growing nationwide. But they could provide no statistics to support the assertion and offered no explanation why the initiative was being announced in the middle of an election year without such evidence.
Clinton’s opposition to truancy thus joins his support for school uniforms, curfews and silent classroom prayer as part of a cluster of values initiatives by which he hopes to attract the backing of middleclass voters - even though the federal government’s role in such matters is peripheral.
Clinton stressed that school attendance is almost entirely a local, not federal, concern. But he said Washington could help by providing information about programs that work and giving advice about the legality of local actions.
The Department of Education will spend $10 million in discretionary funds to pay for anti-truancy pilot programs in 25 school districts, officials said.
The Dole campaign dismissed the truancy initiative as a transparent political ploy and camouflage for the administration’s poor record on drugs.