Gov. Jay Inslee’s partial veto of truancy-reform legislation means at-risk students are stuck in a system that too often leads straight to jail.

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WASHINGTON state badly needs a new statewide approach to truancy intervention, but Gov. Jay Inslee just set back its best hope in 20 years.

An antiquated state law sends most kids who chronically miss school to juvenile court. Once there, data show just 40 percent end up graduating. In fact, they’re more likely to rack up a criminal charge than get a diploma.

Young and homeless

Editor's note: Editorial writer Jonathan Martin spent several weeks looking at youth homelessness from all angles, traveling in-state and out to talk with kids, parents, foster parents, social workers, state officials and lawmakers. A series of editorials have addressed Martin's findings and appeared alongside columns and guest commentaries addressing this issue.

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Support for this series

Reporting for this project was made possible with financial support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private, national philanthropic organization that aims to better futures for disadvantaged children in the U.S. The work was done and directed independently of the foundation.

Reddit chat

Jonathan Martin and Megan Gibbard of All Home King County talked about youth homelessness during a recent "Ask Me Anything" Live chat on Reddit.

And a lack of resources to divert them back to the classroom means they are prone to violating court orders, which leads to them being sent to juvenile detention. Washington’s law is so outdated that it accounts for one-third of all the cases nationally where a youth accused of noncriminal offenses like truancy is sent to detention.

This year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, and retiring Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, admirably took a broad step toward reform. They helped pass a bill requiring school districts to set up community truancy boards, which divert kids who skip school out of juvenile court and toward more meaningful interventions.

But Inslee gutted the bill this month. In partially vetoing SSHB 2449, Inslee said he needed evidence that the funding source — a sliver of a special pot of money to help kids struggling with reading, writing and math — was better spent on truancy prevention.

The governor need only look at districts in his state. In Spokane Valley, a community truancy board raised the graduation percentage of truants to 82 percent, versus only about one-third statewide. In Clark County, that approach virtually ended use of detention for truants.

Bad move, governor. Lawmakers will have to restart this overdue reform next year, but not before another year of at-risk kids are stuck with a bad state law that too often leads straight to jail.