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Lobbying Against H2572

The following letter was sent to all members of the Joint House and Senate Committee on Public Safety. H2572 was voted down in Committee.

Massachusetts Home Learning Association

April 8, 1999
Senator Jo Ann Sprague
Member Joint Committee on Public Safety
Room 314
State House
Boston MA 02133

Dear Senator Sprague:

We write you in opposition to House Bill 2572, the bill which proposes to deny a driver's license to anyone under the age of eighteen who has not "received a high school diploma or is not currently enrolled in a certified high school." The ostensible goal for this plan is to reduce truancy. Yet, under Massachusetts law, once a person reaches the age of 16, that person no longer comes under the reach of the compulsory education statutes; sixteen to eighteen year olds cannot be truant. We understand that the intent of the bill, nonetheless, is to keep in school those students who are inclined to drop out at age sixteen.

Let us examine what the effects of such a proposal might be. The suggested remedy for "truancy" represents an unnecessary incentive for the large majority of 16-18 year olds in the Commonwealth; these students already perceive a value in obtaining a high school diploma and are already committed to staying in school to receive it. Would such a remedy, however, be successful in keeping in school those16-18 year olds who would otherwise leave? The incentive of the driver's license has not demonstrated its supposed motivational power in states that have adopted similar laws; there "is no concrete proof that any of the laws have kept students in school or motivated them to work harder."*

[*"Bad Students' Driving Penalties Burden Schools," by David Firestone. The New York Times, Thursday, March 11, 1999.]

The proposed remedy will, however, produce pronounced negative side effects on certain categories of teens. Many teens not enrolled in high school at age sixteen do not, by any standard, fit the common negative stereotype of "truant." Homeschooled teens in this age category are not enrolled in a "certified high school program," but they pursue a wide variety of productive activities. [It's important to note, furthermore, that the words "certified high school program" have no statutory significance.] College-bound homeschoolers, for example, commonly do not receive high school diplomas but rather are admitted to colleges on the basis of standard (SATs, CLEPs, APs) and non-standard (portfolios, personal interviews) criteria. Some take courses at community colleges or extension schools and need transportation to get to their classes. Some begin apprenticeships. Some pursue their studies at home, preparing for college. These students are in no way "truant." Undoubtedly there are other teens, not homeschooled, who leave school at age 16 for perfectly valid and legal reasons. The proposed bill would create genuine harm for mature young people, nearly voting age, who may be getting jobs or entering college early. It seems counterproductive to penalize those who are well on their way to a productive adulthood.

Because H2572 is most likely an ineffective measure and is most certainly an unjust measure, the Massachusetts Home Learning Association is firmly opposed to its passage.

Maggie Sadoway, State Coordinator

Massachusetts Home Learning Association

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