She told me that a significant percentage of their habitually truant high school students had missed their elementary school classes, too—for weeks, even months at a time. That, to me, was a call to action. The connections were so clear. You could map the path for children who started drifting away from the classroom when they were young. The truant child became the wanderer . . . who became the target for gang recruiters . . . who became the young drug courier . . . who became the perpetrator—or the victim—of violence. If we didn’t see that child in elementary school, where they belonged, chances were we’d see them later in prison, in the hospital, or dead. Some of my political advisers worried that tackling truancy would not be a popular issue. Even today, others don’t appreciate the intention behind my approach; they assume that my motivation was to lock up parents, when of course that was never the goal. Our effort was designed to connect parents to resources that could help them get their kids back into school, where they belonged. We were trying to support parents, not punish them—and in the vast majority of cases, we succeeded. Still, I was willing to be the bad guy if it meant highlighting an issue that otherwise would have received too little attention. Political capital doesn’t gain interest. You have to spend it to make a difference.
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