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State Senator Introduces Bill to Improve Drop-out Rates

April 8, 1998
By: Kai Reed
MDN Columbia Bureau

A seventeen-year-old Columbia girl helps her grandmother get dressed, drops her little brother off at school, and drives herself to work before many high school students get out of bed.

Tiesha Campbell could become part of the twenty-five percent of high school dropouts who will lose their driver's license if Missouri passes legislation this year.

The transportation committee heard a bill last month requiring any person under the age of eighteen-- not enrolled in school-- to have their driver's license revoked.

The sponsor of the bill, State Senator Bill Russell of Lebanon, wants to decrease a state wide dropout rate that is consistently high.

"Forty-percent of St. Louis and Kansas City public school students did not graduate high school in 1997," says Russell. "The drop-out rate is simply unacceptable. It is time that we wage every effort possible to keep these kids in school."

Campbell dropped out of school when she was sixteen in order to help her family.

"I just think it's unfair that I would have to lose my license just because I'm not in school right now," Campbell says. "I mean, I plan on going back soon, but in my situation right now there are a few things that are more important."

Russell thinks revoking dropouts' driver's licenses will encourage individuals like Campbell to get back in school or some state-supported GED program.

"There are lots of folks that probably need to be encouraged," Russell says. "This is a way to keep them in school."

Campbell, on the other hand, doubts that the passing of the bill will have much effect on her lifestyle at all.

"If I have to, I will go back and get my GED," says Campbell. "But in the meantime I would still drive anyway, even if I lost my license. This is not going to change my situation or what I have to do to survive."

Blue Springs based, Families for Home Education lobbyist, Diane Mclelland, says that Campbell is just one of Missouri's twenty-five percent of teenage dropouts that would be unfairly affected if this new bill were to pass in the senate.

Mclelland says that the new billl would contradict current Missouri law. This law places the ages of compulsory school attendance between seven and sixteen years old.

"To say that teenagers have to be in school until they are eighteen to get their driver's license would be completely unfair," says Mclelland. "This bill would do no less than raise the compulsory school attendance age to eighteen."

Mclelland feels it is the parent's right to decide if their teenager should have a driver's license. She says that if this bill should become law, the right to apply for driving privileges would not be determined by the parent, but the school authority.

"To remove a teenager's driver's license is the responsibility of the parent, not the Department of Education or any other government agency," Mclelland says. "Therefore, I oppose any legislation which attaches driving privileges to school attendance."

Mclelland concludes that state legislators need to concentrate more on the reasons why students are dropping out of school, instead of looking for ways to take their personal privileges away.

She says that students who drop out of school after the compulsory age of sixteen are often functionally illiterate.

"Students who are being challenged in meaningful ways do not drop out of school," says Mclelland. "The proposed legislation represents an expanded government into the personal lives of the citizens of this state, while the reasons why students drop out are going unaddressed."

If passed, the estimated net effect of the bill on Missouri taxpayers is five-thousand-three hundred-thirty dollars per child each year of school attendance. Mclelland feels that this is a high price for taxpayers to pay just to force uncooperative students to stay in school.

"We agree that something must be done," Mclelland says. "But we hope that the state of Missouri would, instead, address the deeper problem of what causes a child to drop out of school."

Denver based, Education Commission of the States coordinator, Kathy Christie, feels that the proposed bill is just what teenagers like Campbell need as an incentive to stay in school.

"People need to understand that you can't do well in school if you are not there," says Christie. "Any attempt state legislators can make to help encourage the attendance of high school students can't be all that bad."

There are sixteen states that require teenager's high school enrollment to get their driver's license. Christie feels that Missouri will have no problem becoming the seventeenth.

"This is an easy piece of legislation to get in place," Christie says. "It does not seem too demanding money or time wise, and there does not appear to be a signigicant amount of criticism or opposition to this type of legislation."

The senate transportation committee chair, Danny Staples, strongly disagrees.

"This is a bill of average importance," says Staples. "It's a bill we really don't have to have, it really does not do much for the state."

This bill is still waiting to go to executive session where it will be voted on, but it will go into effect August of this year if it is successfully passed in the senate.


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