Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I Thought We Already Killed This Bad Idea

Kentucky had a law called "no pass, no drive" from 1990 to 2003 that was supposed to cut down Kentucky's high school dropout rate.

It didn't work. Unfortunately for us, that isn't stopping House Democrats from bringing it back up all in the name of doing something about education.

There is no evidence whatsoever that "no pass, no drive" had any impact on the dropout rate in Kentucky back in its heyday, when 129 of 176 school districts used it. Thousands of students each year lost their licenses under the law for dropping out before turning 18, failing four classes, or skipping school more than nine times, but the dropout rate didn't go down.

If old court records are any indication, this law was largely ignored by its targets. Many would continue to drive on their suspended licenses and then plead "hardship" when they were caught and dragged into court.

School officials familiar with the "no pass, no drive" law complain that enforcement was often delayed by the time it took for the Department of Transportation to process school records.

Former liberal talk show host -- also former Third District Congressman -- Mike Ward sponsored the original bill back in 1990. Rep. Mike Cherry (D-Princeton) is pushing it now.

There is no good reason to consider passing this bill. It would be one thing if it worked or could convincingly be portrayed as more than another weak excuse for "doing something" about schools, but it didn't work and we can't afford to pretend that this is somehow worth another try.

We have made mention here before that there is no lobbying group to protect students and parents like there is to protect the status quo in the public education arena. If there were, louder objections to this bill would have been made this morning in the House Education Committee meeting. As it went, the Home School Legal Defense Association was notified this morning, an objection was voiced, and the bill was tabled for now. That was because of a tacked-on line by Rep. Cherry that looks like a back door method for making home schoolers answer to the Kentucky Department of Education and the courts. Rep. Tom Riner(D-Louisville), a home school parent, suggested the bill's reference to home schoolers be changed to "non-public schools," making it possible to anger more people. While this point was used to table the bill as that proposed change is to be discussed further, it really misses the larger point. Why are we trying to dredge up failed bills from the 1990's when we have real current problems to address?

The legislature is taking this moment at the crossroads of our educational system and cramming it down the toilet.

What a waste.

Democrats deserve blame for the current dithering and the recent decades of increasingly expensive treading of water, but Republicans are the ones who could have chosen real increases to educational standards as the perfect wedge issue and they have failed to capitalize.

It looks like we are going to spend the 2006 session arguing about the color of the drapes upstairs while the basement is flooding.