Fighting dropouts, one teenage driver at a time

With Texas’ dropout rate hovering around onethird, you can make a good argument that policymakers need to figure out a better way of combating it, other than to order a new generation of accountability tests for students and then slash the public education budget, which is what the Legislature did, backtoback, during its two most recent sessions.

Well, there is one other thing the state does.

It provides an extra incentive to stay in school for kids eager to exercise their independence behind the wheel of a car. Texans younger than 18 have an extra requirement for obtaining and renewing a driver’s license. It’s called a verification of enrollment (VOE) form, proving that they are enrolled in school for the current semester.

A freshly issued, uptodate student ID badge won’t do, as my 17yearold son and I learned this morning when we went to one of the most inconveniently located and most parkingunfriendly DPS driver’s license offices in the entire state (and then waited in line) to renew his license.

He got his first regular driver’s license in January, but drivers younger than 18 have to renew their licenses on their next birthday, and they can’t renew online. Please keep all of this in mind (and also make sure you know your son’s or daughter’s Social Security number) if you are a parent gathering the nerve to dive into this teenage driving adventure. It might save you an extra trip to the driver’s license office after taking time off from work and school. These offices are closed on the weekends, a costcutting step taken during a previous state budgetary crunch.

This morning’s setback was minor. Adrian will get his VOE form, and we will try again on Friday, when he has an open schedule until midmorning. But it got me to thinking about whether this school enrollment proof for young drivers is an effective deterrence to dropping out or merely something that sounds good and was easy for the Legislature to impose.

I don’t know. It may be keeping some kids in school, but many dropouts are from families that can’t afford cars. And, I suspect there are thousands of other young dropouts driving around on our streets and highways without the blessing of a license, just as there are thousands of motorists driving around without insurance, which the state also requires.


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