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Published in Print: April 26, 2000, as Fla. Driver's License Revocations Improve Attendance

Fla. Driver's License Revocations Improve Attendance

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Florida teenagers are just now feeling the sting of a 1997 state law that automatically revokes the driving privileges of students who miss too much school.

With 66 of the state's 67 school districts now sending daily-attendance updates to the state's motor-vehicles department, Florida has suspended some 5,000 driver's licenses of students who have missed at least 15 days of school in a 90-day period. The state has created records for another 24,000 minors, ages 14 through 18, who will be prevented from obtaining licenses if their poor attendance patterns continue.

Full implementation of the law was delayed while first the motor-vehicles department, and later the school districts, put in place the technology necessary to comply with the reporting requirements.

Under the law, students can regain their driving privileges only if they attend school for 30 consecutive school days.

While some school officials complain that the reporting procedures create administrative headaches, others say the law hits students where it counts and will likely have a positive impact on attendance.

"It has made a difference," said Venus Stinson, a senior at Boone High School in Orlando, where the Orange County school district first began reporting names of truant students to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles at the end of March. "I know a couple of people who have been coming to school more because they don't want to lose their licenses. If you lose that license, it's like losing a part of you."

Takes Time To Work

The Education Commission of the States, based in Denver, reports that 18 states currently have laws that list regular school attendance as a prerequisite to acquiring, and, in some cases, retaining driver's licenses.

West Virginia passed the first such law in 1988, and most of the other states with such laws followed suit in the early 1990's, said Jay Smink, the executive director of the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.

In West Virginia, after a 1993 revision tightened up the implementation procedures in the original "no pass, no drive" law, the state has seen dropout rates improve, said Jan Barth, the director of student services for the state education department. The statewide dropout rate held at about 16 percent between 1993 and 1996, before plummeting to 2.8 percent in 1997.

"It took about three years for people to realize that we were really going to do this," Ms. Barth said. "But in view of the data, I do think it's been successful."

According to Mr. Smink, no evidence shows that such laws have proved effective in luring dropouts back to school permanently. He said studies tracking the impact of such laws found that they might initially bring dropouts back to school, but without a change in the learning environment, the students stop attending school again and drive without a license.

"Most of the legislation on the books only goes halfway to the finish line," Mr. Smink argued. "To finish it, you need to create opportunities for a different learning experience. Otherwise, they're going to walk again."

Wayne Blanton, the executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, said his state's threat to driving privileges likely has a greater impact than the loss of the license itself.

"When we lose control of the student, we lose control of the impact," Mr. Blanton said. "If they drop out, there's not much we can do about it."

The legislature this spring will likely address administrators' complaints about paperwork, as well as concerns about student privacy, Mr. Blanton added.

Tracking daily absences in a large district is cumbersome, said Barbara Frye, a spokeswoman for the 45,000-student Escambia County district. Still, Ms. Frye and others acknowledge that early signs suggest the implementation of the law is having an impact.

"It's gotten their attention, most definitely," said Jon Christensen, an administrative dean at Boone High School. "They knew it was a threat before, but they also knew it wasn't enforced. People really woke up quick."

Vol. 19, Issue 33, Page 28

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