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Bill would tie teen driving to school behavior

By Dana Tofig
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Students who don't show up for school or misbehave when they do could lose their driver's license under Gov. Sonny Perdue's new education package.

A bill on school discipline and attendance, introduced in the state House on Monday, would keep a 16- or 17-year-old who is not enrolled in some type of secondary education from receiving or keeping a driver's license. Also under the bill, students would lose their right to drive if they are suspended from school for 10 days or have 10 unexcused absences.

Also, schools would be required to write a policy on how and when disruptive students should be removed from class, making the rules clear for teachers, students and principals.

"Teachers should be able to remove disruptive students so they can focus their time on the students who want to learn," said Derrick Dickey, a spokesman for the governor. "Driver's licenses are also an excellent incentive for students to attend and behave in school."

The governor's education proposal is spread over three bills. The second bill introduced in the House Monday addresses spending flexibility and accountability. If passed, it would, for a second straight year, delay implementation of state-mandated class-size reductions.

It also would permanently restore spending flexibility to local school districts. The massive state school reform law passed in 2000 directed local school systems on how to spend most of their funds. For instance, money for library and media had to go to library and media. Last year, the state Legislature gave systems some flexibility for one year because of budget shortfalls.

The governor's new bill would let school systems keep that flexibility as long as the districts continue to meet state education goals.

"Last year, the House Education Committee gave local school districts one year of flexibility. This was mainly due to budget concerns," said Dickey. "Now they should have a better understanding for the need of local schools to target resources to their unique problem areas."

But state Rep. Bob Holmes (D-Atlanta), chairman of the House Education Committee, said Monday he had not seen any data to tell him whether that flexibility has helped teachers and students. "We are talking about spending hundreds of millions of dollars," Holmes said. "They want us to give all 180 school systems flexibility when obviously all 180 of them haven't done a good job."

Holmes also said he has not seen any details on exactly how the governor's discipline and attendance plan would actually work.

State Sen. Joey Brush (R-Appling), head of the Republican-led Senate Education Committee, said the two bills were introduced Friday in the Senate and will be discussed this week.

The third part of the governor's education plan would combine the state's disparate early education programs – including the federally funded Head Start and day care licensure – under the Office of School Readiness, Dickey said.

That bill should be introduced later this week.