Truant Teens Lose Licenses in Georgia and Other States
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
Students in Georgia's high schools will have an extra incentive to go to class this fall.
For most teens, few freedoms are as prized as being able to drive, and Georgia high school students who miss 10 days of school this year may lose their driver's license.
Nearly 14 percent of Georgia's 1.5 million students missed more than 15 days of school last year and 36 percent of students missed more than 6 school days, according to the state's statistics.
Tougher truancy standards for teens were especially important because Georgia ranks 48th among states in the percentage of high school graduates, said Loretta Lepore, a spokeswoman for Gov. Sonny Perdue (R).
Students who persistently skip school are more likely to drop out of high school and commit crimes, according to a study of truancy by the Tennessee comptroller. Nationally, 33 percent of high school seniors skipped classes during a four-week period in 2000, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.
"We know [truancy is] a problem in Georgia and directly impacts the long-term growth of students and their future earning potential," Lepore said.
Workers without a high school diploma earn about $21,000 a year in Georgia, compared to $26,000 for those with a diploma and $43,000 for college graduates, she said.
The Peach State's provisions to punish truants were part of a larger student discipline bill meant to give teachers greater control in the classroom, Lepore said.
Rhode Island also passed a law this year that gives family court judges the power to revoke licenses of chronically absent students.
At least 16 other states have laws requiring students to stay in school or maintain a certain grade point average to earn or keep their driver's license, according to the Education Commission of the States. Those states are: Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
In West Virginia, the first state to link school attendance and drivers licenses in 1988, the incentive has motivated many students to stay in school, said Mary Lopez, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Motor Vehicles. In the 2002-2003 school year, the department threatened to suspend the licenses of 2,159 students, and followed through in 589 cases. But 493 students who lost their licenses eventually returned to class and had their driving privileges restored, she said.
But truancy is a complex problem and the threat of losing a license is not always enough to keep kids in class, according to a 2004 analysis by the Tennessee state comptroller. On an average day, about 50,000 students are absent from Tennessee classrooms, and the average student misses up to 13 full school days a year, according to that report.
Tennessee, which also has a law that suspends the driving privileges of truant teens, revoked the licenses of 6,175 in the 2002-2003 school year, according to the comptroller's report. While that number has steadily declined from 8,548 in 1998-1999, "it is impossible to determine whether the decrease is a result of less enforcement of the law or of greater academic achievement," the study said.
The state has only general guidelines for attendance, and local school districts promote and enforce those rules in a wide variety of ways, according to the study. In addition, the state Department of Education gives little guidance or training on truancy prevention, and truancy officers report they are overloaded with cases.
Tennessee also is lagging in measures to keep parents involved in their children's education, a key measure to prevent truancy, the report states.