Chronic truants would lose driving privilege

Chronic truants would lose driving privilege

(N.M.) An administrator calls a meeting with a student’s parent to discuss his increased absence from first period. The student begins meeting regularly with a dropout prevention coach once it is determined that difficulties in his first class are causing him to avoid the course.

If that doesn’t work and he continues to skip school, the student is issued a notice that his driver’s license has been revoked by the New Mexico Motor Vehicles Division.

“I firmly believe that every child can learn, regardless of their background, and I am committed to doing everything we can to help our kids succeed,” Gov. Susana Martinez said in a statement. “That means strengthening the support network that helps them stay in class and on track to graduate, and providing real consequences for those students who do not hold up their end of the bargain.”

Martinez called on lawmakers to resuscitate a previously stalled bill that would bar chronically absent students from attaining driver’s licenses in an effort to curb the state’s high truancy rates.

Funding requests for additional school social workers and dropout prevention coaches – 60 of which were added to schools across the state earlier in the year – were included in her announcement last month.

Research has regularly shown that students with poor attendance can face long-term academic hardships, even from just small amounts of lost learning time. Those considered habitually truant, or as having 10 or more days of unexcused absences, are more likely to struggle in school and ultimately drop out.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, New Mexico’s high school graduation rate is the second lowest in the country at 68.5 percent.

Under current law, parents can be fined up to $500 if their child is regularly truant.

SB 85, authored by Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, would have authorized a school district to request the Motor Vehicles Division to revoke the driver’s license of a student deemed habitually truant.

Its sister bill, HB 117, authored by Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque, also failed in the Senate after passing 36-32 in the House during the 2015 regular session.

Nevada and Florida have similar regulations for students, and legislators in Alabama are considering this method as well.

Under both New Mexico bills, parents would be asked to meet with school officials to discuss their child’s chronic absenteeism and develop a plan to help improve attendance. Parents could also contest the students’ unexcused absences or apply for a hardship waiver.

Opponents of such legislation argue that a punitive approach does not work because the root issues causing a student to miss school are not addressed. In some cases, truancy can be attributed to chronic illnesses, emotional trauma, difficulties at home or a student’s need to work to help support the family.

Those are the issues Martinez said she hopes to address by expanding a program currently being piloted in 17 schools across the state, which monitors students’ academic, disciplinary and attendance history, and notes whether a student has failed any classes during middle and high school. School officials can intervene early if a student fails to meet certain graduation benchmarks.

The governor also called for almost $2 million in additional funding for more school social workers and dropout prevention coaches.

“Our kids deserve every shot at success in school,” Hanna Skandera, secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department, said in a statement. “These proposals would help keep more students in the classroom and put them on track for graduation, fulfilling our ultimate goal of helping all of our children reach their full potential.”

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