Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rick Perry’s Solution to the High School Dropout Rate: A Study of Stunning Ignorance in High Office

Did you know that Governor Rick Perry has finally, once and for all, solved the onerous problem that Texas has in having the second highest high school dropout rate in the country?

My God the man’s a genius.

First Perry announced that someone in the legislature should file a bill that gives tax incentives to small business owners that allow employees without a high school diploma to get some paid time off so that they can get a diploma through night school or paid time off to study for a test to get their GED.

That’s what we call “the carrot approach,” a benign reward system. And this was a grand idea until it was pointed out, here for instance, that the program’s limit of 1000 individuals per year would merely scratch the surface of the hundreds of thousands who could benefit from Perry’s proposed plan.

No problem. Governor Perry is used to setbacks like this. The problem is apparently more acute and their sheer numbers perhaps require more Machiavellian measures.

Enter “the stick approach.”

Last Thursday, on July 15th, Rick Perry unveiled his latest initiative, one that he hopes will finally, once and for all, solve Texas’ very serious dropout rate. From KHOU’s website
“HOUSTON -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry says students who drop out of school shouldn’t be able to get a driver’s license and he called for new legislation to enforce his plan to keep kids in school.”

“‘If you are of high school age and you are not in a bricks and mortar or virtual school, you’re not going to get a driver’s license, it’s that simple,’ Perry said during a press conference Monday. ‘The fact is, a single drop out is too many, so we’ve got to continue pursuing sensible, proven options and give every Texan an option at a better life.’”

“Perry said the idea shouldn’t be considered punishment, but an incentive to stay in school.”

“‘It’s going to take a member of the legislature to introduce it and it’s going to take massaging to get it through the process, but I hope they see the incentive and the wisdom of using that incentive approach to keep our young people in either a virtual high school or a bricks and mortar high school,’ he said.”
Now first, before anyone goes off on Rick Perry for proposing this, proposing a law be passed that would seriously cut into individual freedom, a law that would put serious limitations on the social lives of countless Texas citizens aged 16 to 18, before you go and label Rick Perry a monster for proposing this new legislation, consider this:

Texas Transportation Code, Title 7, Subtitle B, § 521.204: RESTRICTIONS ON MINOR

(a) The department may issue a Class C driver's license to an applicant under 18 years of age only if the applicant:

(1) is 16 years of age or older;

(2) has submitted to the department a driver education certificate issued under Section 9A, Texas Driver and Traffic Safety Education Act (Article 4413(29c), Vernon's Texas Civil Statutes), that states that the person has completed and passed a driver education course approved by the department under Section 521.205 or by the Texas Education Agency;

(3) has obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent or is a student:

(A) enrolled in a public school, home school, or private school who attended school for at least 80 days in the fall or spring semester preceding the date of the driver's license application; or

(B) who has been enrolled for at least 45 days, and is enrolled as of the date of the application, in a program to prepare persons to pass the high school equivalency exam; and

(4) has passed the examination required by Section 521.161.
[Emphasis is mine].

One might excuse the governor his extreme ignorance if perhaps he didn’t have children. But Rick Perry does. My guess is that both of his children at one point, got a Verification of Enrollment form from their high school’s registrar so they could get a Texas driver’s license while attending high school.

Mine did.

The Bill White Campaign, upon hearing of Rick Perry’s bold new plan, issued this statement:

“‘Unfortunately for Rick Perry, this law has been on the books since 1989 and he's been responsible for enforcing it. Only a career politician would try to sell a law already in existence as his own slick new idea,’ said Katy Bacon, campaign spokesperson. ‘We need a governor who's actually going to work on the dropout crisis instead of dredging up election year sound bites.’”

I think in issuing that statement the White Campaign treated Rick Perry very humanely. After all, calling someone an ignoramus is a little harsh, and should be left to to bloggers like me. 

In their statement they implied that Perry must have known about the existing law. All he was doing was some slick electioneering because no one in the press was going to catch this. No one is going to recall that this is an existing program.

And in that last part they were right. No one caught it.

But what is truly tragic is that this has been the law of the land for over 20 years now, and it is abundantly clear that it has done nothing to curb the dropout rate. A rate that has risen since the bill became law.

Making it altogether clear to me at least that Rick Perry not only has no new ideas, but he also has no knowledge of things that have been tried, and failed. In short, Rick Perry exhibits, in this proposal, a shocking display of ignorance.

What should be clear by now, if we have learned anything, is that you don’t solve Texas’ dropout problem by throwing money at other situations that are unrelated to the problem, and you don’t penalize people for being high school drops out by depriving them of legitimacy.

The high school dropout rate in Texas is like a disease. You don’t treat a disease by adding more unpleasant experiences to the list of symptoms; you treat a disease by attacking the cause.

In short, you do the kind of thing that Bill White began as Mayor of Houston: meet with dropouts face to face and convince them that it is in their own best interest to return to class.

What we need right now are thinkers, doers, and achievers. Bill White knows how to get things done. The very last thing we need in Texas right now is four more years of Ignorance in High Office.

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