New Hampshire Approves Dropout-Prevention Bill

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New Hampshire will become the first state in the nation to require students to demonstrate competence in reading, writing, mathematics, and reasoning skills before dropping out of school, under a measure passed by the state legislature.

But lawmakers rejected--at least temporarily----a proposal by Gov. John H. Sununu that would have served as the enforcement mechanism for the new requirement. The Governor had recommended denying drivers' licenses to students who failed a test of those basic skills.

Instead, the legislature named a committee to study the proposed sanction as a tool in encouraging literacy training. Senator George Disnard, chairman of the Senate education committee and a sponsor of the driver's-license provision, said lawmakers will revisit the issue next year.

The measure was part of a comprehensive proposal by Governor Sununu aimed at curbing the state's growing dropout rate--estimated at 25 percent--and ensuring that all students attain basic literacy skills.

The state has a responsibility to provide incentives for students to stay in school and to attain those skills, Mr. Sununu argued.

Met Resistance in House

While 20 states require an exit test for high-school graduation, no state requires students to pass a test in order to leave school before graduating, according to the Education Commission of the States.

The measure would have required all students to pass a competency test in order to earn a driver's license or a work permit, or to drop out of school. In addition, it would have provided $1.9 million for dropout-prevention efforts by local districts.

Shepherded by Senator Disnard, the proposal sailed through the Senate. But it met resistance in the House, where members argued that it was too expensive and would be ineffective in curbing the dropout rate.

A conference committee agreed to drop the work restrictions and the driver's-license provision, and to establish the study committee. In addition, the panel agreed to provide $50,000 to districts to screen potential dropouts and $250,000 for innovative dropout-prevention programs, far less than the funding level requested by Mr. Sununu.

The reduced amount will be sufficient, Mr. Disnard said, since the state commissioner of education had testified that the department would have been unable to spend the full $1.9 million immediately.

In other action, the legislature also adopted a measure requiring the state to distribute to cities and towns $6 million in both fiscal 1988 and 1989 from lottery funds. Revenues from the sweepstakes had been lower than expected, and many municipalities feared that without such legislation, they would not receive their share.

But in response to the Governor's concerns, the legislation requires the cities and towns to spend the funds on schools, rather than use the revenue to reduce property taxes.--RR

Vol. 07, Issue 32

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