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South Carolina High School Dropouts Could Lose Driver's Licenses Under New Bill

First Posted: 03/06/2012 4:23 pm Updated: 03/06/2012 4:29 pm

Playing hooky? Fine, but South Carolina students shouldn't expect to be doing it while cruising around town.

Under a bill advanced last week by a state Senate committee, South Carolina teens who drop out of school or skip too many classes would lose their driving privileges until they turn 18. The proposal now goes to the Senate floor for a vote. It would take effect August 2013 if approved.

The move aims to curb the state's dropout rate, says Republican state Rep. Tom Young, the bill's main sponsor. And although there are costs associated with the proposal, the bill responds to a need for a more educated workforce in the state. Young's initiative also echoes President Barack Obama's January call to keep kids in high school until they turn 18.

"The social cost associated with kids that drop out of school are staggering, and if we can do anything at all to encourage kids to stay in school, then that's a step in the right direction," Young told the Morning News.

If the South Carolina bill becomes law, the Department of Motor Vehicles would likely have to spend an estimated $510,000 in start-up costs and $107,000 in recurring expenses, the Associated Press reports.

The proposal requires that schools electronically notify the DMV when students under the age of 18 have accumulated more than 10 unexcused absences, been expelled or dropped out. Students who already carry licenses or permits would have them suspended. Those who have not yet acquired one would not be able to until they turn 18.

Teens caught driving on a suspended license resulting from dropping out, truancy or expulsion could be fined up to $100. They can re-earn driving privileges if they re-enroll in school or go on track to earn a GED.

Students can be exempt from the law if they experience certain extenuating circumstances, including if the teen must work to support himself or immediate family, if the student must drive to and from a doctor for a medical condition or if the teen is 17 and joins the military or national guard.

About 2.9 percent of South Carolina's high school students dropped out in the 2010-2011 school year -- down from 3.9 percent two years prior, the Morning News reports.

According to an NPR report last July, dropouts cost taxpayers between $320 billion and $350 billion a year nationally in lost wages, taxable income, health, welfare and incarceration costs, among others.

Not only are high school dropouts a cost to the economy, but a cost to themselves as well. Of the 3.8 million students that start high school this year, a quarter won't receive a diploma. Those who don't finish will earn $200,000 less than those who do over their lifetime, and $1 million less than a college graduate.

Dropouts are not eligible for 90 percent of the jobs in our economy, and a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds in the U.S., contributing to a rising unemployment rate.

While Aiken High School junior Patrick Judd values education and says the bill will keep students in school, others are skeptical.

"I don't feel like just because they drop out of school they should get their license taken away," South Aiken High School student Satavia Smith told WJBF-TV. "That means all they're going to do is drive illegally, so it's gonna cause more problems in that area."

Similar laws exist in South Carolina's neighboring states. An initiative that has been in place in Georgia for over a decade has seen substantial decreases in high school dropouts and increases in graduation rates.

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Filed by Emmeline Zhao  |