Rep. Young brings dropout bill back to S.C. House

If a student wants to drop out of high school or just not go to class, he can do so, but it could come at the cost of losing his driver’s license.

South Carolina Rep. Tom Young, R-Aiken, hopes a bill he’s co-sponsoring can get through the General Assembly during the current session in order for it to take effect during the 2012-13 school year.

Under the provisions of the proposed legislation, a 15- to 17-year-old student with a full or restricted driver’s license would lose driving privileges if he leaves his public, private or home school or has seven unexcused absences in a specific time frame.

Students attending adult education classes and making progress toward their GEDs would not be considered dropouts.

“It’s a short-term answer to a long-term problem,” said Young. “It’s not the silver bullet by any means but is part of a long-term solution.”

The District 81 House member talked with students in third through 12th grades. The responses from middle and high school students were especially illuminating, Young said.

“I asked them if losing their driving privileges would keep their peers from dropping out of school,” he said. “The response was amazing. Students in the Junior Leadership program agreed that they knew children who would think twice about dropping out.”

School attendance would also be a condition of getting a beginner’s permit, a conditional or special restricted license or a regular license for teenagers younger than 18. The person could not be expelled from school. The bill does provide opportunities for parents to appeal such an action.

If a student has a personal or family hardship that requires him to have a driver’s license, a waiver could be granted by the Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings. Such hardships would include a job held by the student that is needed to support himself or his family. Similarly, a waiver could be issued if the student or a family member has a medical condition that requires him to provide transportation for treatment.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Aiken County School District attendance supervisor Lise Birak said of the bill. “Teenagers don’t always look at a lack of education and how it will impact the rest of their lives. This will affect them now.”

Birak has spoken with school officials in other areas with such a law. All agreed that the legislation makes a significant difference in dropout rates, she said.

The school absences provision doesn’t apply to medically excused absences. Students who have three consecutive unexcused absences or a total of seven such absences are considered habitually truant and can get referrals to Family Court.

Dropout and absentee numbers are beginning to decrease with the implementation of school-based intervention programs, Birak said. She hopes the new legislation, if approved, will extend that impact.

Young’s bill was approved by the S.C. House in 2010 but bogged down in the Senate. The proposal now in the House is the same and will come up for a subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

The idea actually dates back to a Governor’s Commission report on the state’s future, which was ordered by Gov. Carroll Campbell in 1989.

The report, in part, called high school dropouts a drag on the economy, with many of them ending up in prison or having families living in poverty. The state could not afford that in 1989 and can’t afford it now, Young said.

Courtesy of The Aiken Standard

Leave a Comment