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Money Maker Series Part 5

Bribing Kids to Come to School

For the majority of school systems in America, the amount of public funding they receive is directly tied to how many students show up for class. A loophole in that system led one of the largest and highest-need school systems in the country to do everything they could to get students in class.

Detroit has made recent headlines for less-than-desirable reasons. The efforts of its public schools to entice students to show up for class is one.

Students in Detroit Public Schools are counted twice a year on what are known locally as “count days.” That is when officials take a census that determines how much funding the schools will receive. Because the count days are announced in advance, however, the doors were opened for officials to take questionable steps to ensure that schools were filled to the brim on those days.

With over $7,500 per student at stake, schools enticed potentially truant children to show up with promises of free ice cream and basketball tournaments during school hours.

Gardner Elementary offered special gifts for attendance, effectively bribing kids to show up. Other schools were less brazen, making students enter a raffle rather than simply giving away items like bikes and iPods. In addition to the raffles at each school, students who showed up were entered into a larger raffle with larger prices, including a 42-inch plasma television and a laptop computer.

The tactic that arguably caused the most outrage was taken by Detroit City High School. For count day, the school raffled off free extra credit, which was considered tantamount to academic fraud.

In 2009, National Public Radio spoke with Dr. Delores Harris, Principal at Al Holmes Elementary, who said she didn’t have a problem with blatantly bribing students to come to school.

“I give away a bicycle every year, gift cards every year, and the district is supporting us more this year than ever with the giveaways that they're having for the students,” Harris told NPR. “They're children. They're not little soldiers. And we were kids once. So I don't see anything wrong with incentives or treats to try to convince children to be on the track that you want them to be on.”

The funding generated through the count days is used for supplies like textbooks and other classroom equipment. Some argue, however, that by artificially inflating the attendance numbers with bribery, Detroit is receiving more and spending more than it needs. They argue that 30 textbooks are not required when only 25 students show up to class on a daily basis.


Related Resources

Other articles in the Money Maker series:

Part 1 - A Madison Ave. Education: Schools use ads to raise money

Part 2 - Gold Digging: School’s cash-for-gold event raises eyebrows

Part 3 - Taking a Gamble: Schools rake in casino profits

Part 4 - Cheating for Dollars: Schools fix grades to get more funding

Part 6 - 'Sheepish' About Cutting Costs: Schools trim landscaping bills with 'live lawnmowers'

Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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