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Get money for schools today & short change the future of students
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You show up for work for a month without an absence.

Because of that your name is entered into a drawing at year's end for a $20,000 voucher to buy a new vehicle with taxes and licenses covered.

Sounds nice, doesn't it? But isn't showing up for work when you're not ill is what one is expected to do as part of how you earn a paycheck?

That's not the lesson being driven home up in the Elk Grove Unified School District. A month of perfect attendance gets a senior entered into a year-end drawing for a new car.

It's part of a perverted trend using prizes to get kids who aren't sick to show up at school. The old truancy officer approach was effective enough for decades until the funding spigot from Sacramento became constricted. One day of an unexcused absence - when a student isn't sick but doesn't show up at school - can cost a typical California school district upward of $40. If they miss two weeks during a school year, the district they attend could be out as much as $800.

The incentives - ranging from movie nights to giveaways of laptops and bicycles - work. Districts that employ such tactics experience a rise in attendance which means more money.

But is the short-term gain worth the message that educators are sending? It says one should expect a prize or a reward for simply doing what a responsible person should do.

Sacramento, as usual, paints local schools into a corner.

Instead of overhauling the system we keep adding onto it with essentially worthless additions. So why are we surprised that instead of a functional house when the building process is over we discover that we ended up creating a Winchester Mystery House?

Yes, attendance rates can be better. But is bribery the way to go?

And are we realistic about what we are striving to accomplish?

Much ado has been made over dropout and attendance rates. They're legitimate concerns. Equally legitimate, though, is how those kids who would have gone to the wayside are now impacting the quality of classroom instruction. It isn't easy to teach when you have kids who don't want to be there.

Since we have more people staying in school due to declining dropout rates, what impact does that have on test scores?

No one is saying we should write off kids that don't want to be in school. There are hundreds of reasons why they may not be regular students ranging from family problems to attitude.

But the one that almost never gets addressed is what schools offer at-risk kids.

We have done a Herculean job of eradicating most vocational training from mainstream school curriculum. After all, we need to get the graduation requirements up so every student can qualify for college.

Even if every kid manages to clear the prerequisite bar for college, it is abundantly clear there is not enough jobs requiring college educations that pay well enough to justify the expense. There's simply too much supply for the demand.

Why not create an education program that includes a strong vocational approach not as a single class diversion but as a course of integrated study.

Manteca Unified is on the right track with its culinary academy.

Students should see the point in being able to access a free education courtesy of the taxpayers.

It's hard for some to get motivated by traditional classroom courses. A hands-on approach can be a game changer.

Simply enticing them to come to school on a regular basis because they have a chance at a prize may get a school district more funding today but it shortchanges the student in the long run.

They need an education that is relevant and targets their needs and not that of a school district's bottom line.

A chance at winning a new car is nice but what would even be nicer is developing a skill set and attitude that enables them to pay for insurance, gas, and maintenance once they've secured the freebie.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.