Under Learnfare, all of your children between the ages of 6 and 16 who receive TAFDC must be attending school or in home schooling. If your child has too many unexcused absences, you will lose your child's portion of the TAFDC grant: about $100/month per child.
How does the Learnfare rule work?
The Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) keeps track of school attendance information for your children under age 16.
At the beginning of the school year, DTA will send you a School Identification form for each child asking you for information about what school your child goes to. You must send this form back to DTA. If you do not send it back, DTA will close your TAFDC case.
If your child is in public school, school attendance information will be reported by the schools directly to DTA. You do not need to send any other forms to DTA. But, if your child is in a private, parochial or alternative school, or is being home schooled, DTA will send you an attendance form that you must get filled out by the school and send back to DTA.
If your child misses more than 8 school days in a 45-day school quarter without a good reason, DTA will put your child on "Learnfare probation." DTA will send you a written notice.
What is Learnfare probation?
Once your child is on probation, DTA will keep track of how many unexcused absences there are each month. Each month, DTA will send you a school Attendance Report form. You will need to ask your child's school to fill this form out and sign it, then you must send the completed form to DTA.
If your child has more than 3 unexcused absences in a month while on probation, DTA will stop your child's share of TAFDC benefits for a month (about $100/month). Once your child has fewer than 4 unexcused absences in a month, these benefits will start again.
If your child loses benefits for 3 months in a row, DTA will refer you to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) who may contact you to provide help (this is NOT an abuse and neglect referral).
Your child will remain on Learnfare probation until he or she has 6 school months in a row with a total of 10 or fewer unexcused absences. DTA will send you a written notice once Learnfare probation stops.
You should not lose MassHealth coverage for yourself or child even if your child loses TAFDC. However, your SNAP/Food Stamps will not increase if your TAFDC goes down.
If your child had a good reason to be absent
Under the rules, excused absences include:
- Your child was sick. For kids out of school fewer than 5 days in a row, DTA will accept a written statement from you; you need written proof from a doctor or hospital for illness of 5 days or more;
- Absences due to your child's disability, as defined by DTA;
- Religious holidays;
- Death of an immediate family member (proof of death certificate or newspaper article and
- Crisis situations "approved by the DTA director" or person he/she assigns.
An excused absence should not be counted against your child.
Are there any kids exempt from Learnfare?
Learnfare applies to all children on TAFDC once they turn 6 or start 1st grade (whichever is later) until they turn 16. Only children of disabled parents or caretakers are exempt from the Learnfare rules. The parent must meet strict disability rules to qualify as an exempt family. There are no exceptions for children who are disabled themselves or who are expelled or suspended from a school with no access to alternative education.
If you want to challenge Learnfare probation or reduction of benefits
If you get a notice saying your child is on probation or losing TAFDC because of unexcused absences, you can challenge this. Find out what information your school reported to DTA and make sure it is correct. If there were good reasons why your child was not in school, bring DTA proof of why your child missed school or why the information reported by the school is wrong. If you and your child have been homeless or fleeing abuse, be sure to raise this as a crisis situation.
You have the right to appeal any denial or reduction of benefits. If you get a written notice saying your benefits are being reduced because of Learnfare, you can request a hearing. You can also request a hearing if you get a notice that your child is on Learnfare probation and you disagree. Bring any proofs that might help your case to the hearing. You also have a right to see your case record, including the school records, and make copies of any documents in your DTA file. You also have a right to ask the school for copies of all your child's education records.
If your child needs help in school
Poor school attendance may be a sign of an undiagnosed learning disability or other problem. You have the right to ask your child's teacher or guidance counselor for information on the services available to help your child. In some cases, your child may benefit from special education services.