S.C. bill: No driving for dropouts

South Carolina teens who drop out of school or habitually skip their classes would lose their driving privileges until they’re 18 under a bill pushed by a freshman lawmaker.

Rep. Tom Young called it a short-term solution to the state’s long-term problem of too many students not graduating. He believes threatening to yank the rite of passage of truant youth would be a powerful incentive for them to stay in school.

“It’s time we do something about it,” said Young, R-Aiken, noting that whenever he talked about the idea on the campaign trail in 2008, students were in rapt attention. “A lot of problems in South Carolina stem from the fact that so many people are not adequately educated.”

Under the proposal, co-sponsored by 45 House members of both parties, a student’s parent could appeal for an exception if the teen needs a license to get to work or to drive a sick family member to medical treatments.

Officials at the S.C. Education Department say the idea has potential, and if it works, would benefit a state where the on-time graduation rate is 74 percent. But they note that moving up the age when students can drop out, from 17 to 18, will cost money at a time when education faces drastic cuts.

“The economy overshadows anything this year,” said Scott Price of the state School Boards Association. “Anything that causes additional staff costs should get a closer look. … Right now, districts are laying off and furloughing. We can’t add more at this point.”

Young said legislators must consider the long-term costs.

“The cost of paying for high school dropouts far exceeds the cost of incentives to keep them in school,” he said.

A House Education panel last week postponed voting on the bill, saying too many questions remain. The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Lester Branham, said the idea still needs lots of work on how its implemented.

“It will not cure the problem of truancy,” said Branham, D-Lake City. “It’s really putting a burden on schools to enforce laws about drivers’ licenses.”

At least 20 states have passed similar laws, including neighboring Georgia and North Carolina, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. West Virginia was the first to pass it in 1988, followed by Florida a year later.

Their effectiveness is a matter of debate.

Georgia’s graduation rate has improved since lawmakers passed a 1997 law allowing the license suspension of a teen who misses 10 or more consecutive days of school without permission. But Garry McGiboney, an associate superintendent for that state’s education agency, attributes the improvement to a larger effort that can’t be directly correlated to the law.

A Florida report shows that of the 8,400 teens whose licenses were suspended in 2007-2008 for dropping out or accumulating 15 unexcused absences over 90 days, 96 percent of them re-enrolled.

The issue has popped up periodically in South Carolina over the years. Most recently, a Senate bill pre-filed in December 2006 for the 2007-2008 session never even made it to the chamber floor.

An economic study commission created by former Gov. Carroll Campbell recommended it in 1989.

“The current dropout rates perpetuate many social ills such as crime, teenage pregnancy, infant mortality and health problems,” it reads, asking lawmakers to approve a bill by 1991.

There was never any effective follow-up to the report, and no legislator championed the proposal, said Phil Noble, founder of the nonprofit Palmetto Project.

Read more: http://www.heraldonline.com/2010/04/19/2099282/sc-bill-no-driving-for-dropouts.html#ixzz0lYRdD3OQ

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