Truancy tracker a no-show in AISD budget

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District has pulled the plug on a program that used GPS trackers to help kids who skip class. After a short testing phase at Eastside Memorial High School, the district rolled it out at nine high school campuses during the 2012-2013 school year. Around 1,000 students were enrolled in the program run by AIM Truancy Solutions.

The district targeted students who were on the verge of going to court – those with chronic absences and those who were repeatedly tardy to class.

Crockett High School student Hannah Hoffman signed up last year when she was a junior. That’s when KXAN first met the 16-year-old.

“I would walk into class about five minutes late almost every single day,” said Hoffman.

She was given a GPS device to check in on at various times throughout the day, and assigned a mentor who would check in with Hannah on a regular basis. Hannah started showing up to class on time.

“I knew that attendance was important for my future and for college when I’m on my own,” said Hoffman.

Hannah has continued showing up to class on time into her senior year, despite the fact AISD cut the program at the end of last school year.

“I’m really excited to hear about Hannah. Anytime we’re not working with students anymore we’re wondering,” said Brian Dooley with AIM Truancy Solutions.

AISD told AIM the program was paid for using a grant that ran out last year, and that the district had to cut the program to help close a $30 million budget gap.

The news came as a surprise to AIM.

“Austin ISD had some of the best results we’ve ever seen,” said Dooley. “We know that under our program kids were showing up to school, and they were getting better grades.”

According to Dooley attendance was up 2% at the participating high schools.  That brought in an additional $1.5 million for the district in state funding. As part of the performance based contract, AISD only had to pay AIM if students in the program showed up to class. AIM said AISD ended up paying them about $474,000.

“Typically what we see with other districts is when they see good results they’re expanding our program,” said Dooley.

Currently, the AIM Truancy program is in San Antonio ISD, Judson ISD, Irving ISD, Aldene ISD and Judson ISD. The company will soon be in Waco ISD as well.

If AIM was still around in Austin, Dooley says mentors would continue following up with students like Hannah, offering support all the way to graduation. The 17-year-old says she knows a few other kids who could use the help, too.

“My sister’s a freshman, and she’s had attendance issues just like me,” said Hoffman. “But I guess I can just teach her what I’ve learned.”

After more than six months of requests, Austin ISD has not given KXAN any insight into their decision to cut the program. They have not said what they are doing, if anything, to help the students who were relying on the program.

Austin ISD was also supposed to be conducting its own internal evaluation of the program to see if it was impacting grades, discipline and graduation rates. A spokesperson told KXAN the district never completed or released the report.

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