Program Description

Evaluation of Effects of the Learnfare Program, 1993-1996

Wisconsin's Learnfare program is intended to promote enrollment, improve school attendance, and increase high school graduation or the completion of high school equivalency programs among 13- to 19-year old recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Teenagers subject to Learnfare may be either dependent children or teenage parents receiving AFDC for their own children.

If these teenagers do not maintain enrollment and acceptable school attendance, they risk losing all or part of their families' monthly AFDC grants. In addition, the program offers participants opportunities to work with case managers to identify and correct the causes of the attendance problems and offers services such as day care, transportation, and referral to alternative education programs.

Under Learnfare requirements, if the teenager is not enrolled in school and cannot show good cause, he or she will be removed from the AFDC grant until enrollment is established. If a teenager is enrolled but found to have ten or more unexcused full-day absences in the previous semester, the teenager's attendance is monitored monthly. In each subsequent month, if more than two unexcused full-day absences are reported, the family is informed that unless it can show good cause why the teenager was not in school, its grant will be sanctioned: that is, reduced for one month by the amount of the grant associated with that teenager.

Those teenagers who had ten or more full days' unexcused absence in the prior semester, had been dropouts, or had no available attendance records are placed on monthly attendance monitoring. Families of teenagers placed on monthly monitoring receive computer-generated notices of monthly monitoring, which reiterate Learnfare requirements, inform them that more than two days' unexcused absence in any monitored month will result in a sanction, and contain offers of supportive services to assist with school attendance problems.

Any teenager may establish good cause at any time. Among the situations accepted by the Learnfare program as good cause for not attending school are caring for an infant less than 45 days old, having no reasonably available child care, and other circumstances beyond the control of the family. Teenagers who could establish the existence of these circumstances were not required to meet attendance requirements as long as the conditions existed.

Families of teenagers who are sanctioned receive two notices: the first informs them of the grounds on which the sanction is being considered and on which they could contest the sanction or establish good-cause reasons for non-attendance. Families that do not respond or who cannot establish good cause receive a second notice informing them that the decision to sanction their grant had been made. Both notices reiterate offers of supportive services.