Nearly 80,000 public school students in West Virginia - about 20 percent of the total - met the definition of "truant" during the 2011-12 school year, according to state officials. That is, each of them missed five or more days of school in absences that were not excused.
Nearly 10 percent of the public school population, about 29,000 students, had 10 or more days of unexcused absences.
In attempting to find ways to improve public education in West Virginia, curbing truancy and dropouts are among the most challenging problems. No matter how good the teacher and how advanced the curriculum, children who aren't in class are not being helped.
Truancy and school dropouts are a hand-in-hand problem. As many as one-sixth of students who enter Mountain State high schools drop out before earning their diplomas.
Clearly, state laws some viewed as harsh are not providing enough deterrent to keep some students in class. Dropping out of school before age 17 is illegal. Students who miss more than 15 days of school a year without excuses can lose their driver's licenses.
Throughout the state a variety of programs, some involving magistrates and circuit court judges, are making a dent in the problem. To judge by the numbers, much more needs to be accomplished.
A start could be made by decreasing the number of unexcused school absences before a student loses his or her driver's license. And perhaps stronger penalties against parents who allow their children to miss school would help. The numbers make it obvious something effective, even if apparently harsh, needs to be done.