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Can Lure of Driver’s License Keep Kids in School?

Updated 5:09 p.m. | For many teenagers, getting behind the wheel is a rite of passage. It’s a step into adulthood that brings new freedoms and responsibilities.

For a growing number of state legislatures, however, the driver’s license is being used as an incentive to keep students from dropping out of high school. The laws vary from state to state, but the general premise is the same: If a student wants to stay on the road, he or she must stay in school.

In West Virginia — the first state to adopt a so-called attend-and-drive law in 1988 — students become ineligible for a driver’s license if they are not on a path to graduate from high school within five years or by the age of 19.

Other states have more specific academic requirements. Students in Arkansas must maintain a 2.0 GPA, and Tennessee requires a passing grade in at least three subjects to be eligible to drive.

Whether these policies are effective is anyone’s guess, according to Matthew Lenard, who studied the issue for the Southern Regional Education Board.

“It’s a relatively low-cost prescription for keeping kids in school or bringing them back,” Lenard said. “Now the question is does the data support it, and as far as we can tell, it doesn’t.”

The NewsHour’s American Graduate team traveled to West Virginia and Tennessee — two of 22 states that have attend-and-drive laws on the books — to talk to students, administrators and education analysts about the difficulties of enforcing these laws and what the policies could mean for future dropout rates.

Three more states — Iowa, Minnesota and New York — are currently weighing attend-and-drive laws.

A version of this report will air Tuesday on the NewsHour broadcast.

What do you think about incentives or laws such as the one profiled here? Do you think they work? Share your thoughts in the comments or tweet us. We’ll include some of your reactions in a blog post later this week.

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