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If early intervention fails, truant students and their parents can be hit with harsh penalties. Truancy laws differ from state to state, but students often face fines, community service, restrictions on driving privileges and in extreme cases, probation, according to the dropout prevention center. Some local governments require truant students to wear ankle bracelets so authorities can monitor them during school hours and be sure they’re in class.

In some states, parents can face fines or be forced to attend parenting classes. In the worst cases, parents can face neglect charges and may even lose custody of their children.

While they agree truancy is a serious problem that must be addressed, some officials are skeptical of giving students cash, cars or iPods as incentives to come to class.

Camden, N.J., School Board member Sean Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he opposes the grant program. Former board member Jose Delgado told the paper that the move is “outrageous” and sends the wrong message to students. Many critics believe that daily attendance should be an expectation, and districts should not have to resort to what some consider bribery to get children to class

But others believe that students can’t be reached unless districts get them in the building.

“Many times it is beneficial to get kids to school in order to be able to work on these underlying problems,” Mr. Appleton said. “Research suggested that incentives can be effective.”