When Martha describes how her 12-year-old daughter, Lisa, suffered while battling brain cancer—seizures, strokes, more than two years in and out of hospitals—it doesn't seem at all surprising that Lisa wouldn't have been up for attending school during this time. But as her mom (using pseudonyms) tells the Daily Beast, Lisa's inability to check in to the classroom resulted in their home state of Michigan pulling the plug on the family's welfare benefits. Martha says the principal, superintendent, and head of special ed in Lisa's district were aware of her condition, but apparently someone else in the school was not: Lisa was dropped from enrollment records after it was noticed she had been out since a stroke in 2012. The state then invoked a law that allows welfare recipients to lose their benefits if their kids don't go to school.
"Our top priority is to keep kids in schools, and we want to use whatever tools we can to incentivize children to stay," says a spokesman for the state's Department of Health Services. But he acknowledges the department didn't know how effective this particular tool actually was at getting kids back into school. "That's not anything we're able to track because they've stopped receiving public assistance," he says. A judge last summer who said he was "sympathetic to the extenuating circumstances" in Lisa's case upheld the state's decision, a ruling reversed by another judge a month later. That victory didn't come soon enough: Lisa died before the second ruling. (Are we winning the war on poverty?)