Every school day in the United States, up to 7,000 students drop out of high school. History tells us the following about these young people in general:* They each earn $350,000 less over his or her lifetime than a high school graduate; * They each earn $1.3 million less over his or her lifetime than a college graduate;* They are more likely to depend on taxpayer funded social programs such as food stamps, welfare and Medicaid; * Six out of every 10 inmates in South Carolina's prisons did not finish high school; * In South Carolina, if the 32,000 dropouts from the 2006-07 school year graduated, they would earn an additional $8.3 billion in combined income over their lifetimes.Twenty-three years ago, the Governor's Commission on the Future of South Carolina recognized the substantial social and economic costs of dropouts like the data above suggests. As one way to combat the dropout rate, the commission recommended that the privilege to drive a car should be tied to staying in school until age 18. Despite that recommendation and the fact that both Georgia and North Carolina have similar requirements in their laws, South Carolina's legislature has not given final passage to such a law. However, this year, that can change. On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee will consider H. 3164, which prohibits possession of a driver's license until age 18 unless the young person is enrolled in, or has completed, high school. The bill contains a hardship provision for some limited exceptions including where the young person has to go to work to support himself or his immediate family or where he or she joins the military at age 17. The House passed the bill last year as it did in 2010 only to see the bill die because the 2010 session ended before the Senate voted on it. Opponents argue that the state cannot afford this law because the Department of Motor Vehicles says that implementing the law may result in the need to hire up to three full-time employees. While that number is subject to debate, opponents will not tell you that the DMV has had a carry forward surplus in its Other Funds appropriations of at least $10.8 million for each of the past seven fiscal years. Thus, money at the DMV for up to three full-time employees should not be a reason to kill this bill.Opponents also say that passing the law will cause some students to stay in school who do not want to be there. As a result, they will be disruptive to other students. Isn't that like letting the tail wag the dog? Should we let the possible misbehavior of some kids stand in the way of passing good legislation aimed at addressing high school dropouts and the increasing social costs to taxpayers? The bottom line is this: To most young people between the ages of 15 and 17, driving a car is the next best thing to having a cell phone. Under state law, driving is a privilege and not a right. Even if a young person does not want to be in a traditional track in high school, there are opportunities available for him or her through district career centers to learn a skill while staying in high school to meet basic graduation requirements. The naysayers will always find a way to argue that this bill should fail. Yet, not passing it keeps the status quo which we as taxpayers pay for with increased costs associated with dropping out of school including crime, teenage pregnancy, infant mortality, health problems, juvenile delinquency and single parent families living in poverty. If this bill will keep some students from dropping out, it is good for South Carolina. We should no longer kick the can down the road on this issue. All of us win when more students graduate from high school. Please call the Senate Education Committee today at (803) 212-6250 to express your support for this bill.Tom Young is a Republican representing District 81 in the S.C. House of Representatives. He is an attorney in Aiken.
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