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APS may consider bill on truancy

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Marty Esquivel wants his colleagues on the Albuquerque Public Schools board to consider throwing their support behind a proposal that would allow schools to strip habitually truant students of their driver’s licenses.

Legislation that would have done just that died in committee during the last legislative session, but it could resurface during next year’s session, which starts in January.

“I would think we would all agree we haven’t done enough about truancy,” Esquivel said during Wednesday night’s board meeting, suggesting the board back such a measure if introduced.

The board took no action Wednesday, but agreed to discuss it further and possibly announce its position in advance of the session.

The previous legislative proposal said school districts would have the option of asking the Motor Vehicle Division to deny or suspend driver’s licenses for students who are habitually truant, missing 10 or more days.

Board member Kathy Korte stopped short of saying she supported the proposal, but did say, “I am intrigued by this just because I know we don’t do enough to intervene with students who are dropping out.”

But Korte said she was concerned the law would place more burden on the district’s administration.

Other board members seemed lukewarm on the idea, but none said they would oppose it.

APS did not take a stance on the proposed legislation last session, said Carrie Robin Brunder, APS’ director of government affairs and policy, during Wednesday’s meeting.

Esquivel said he understands the law may seem “draconian” to some. Specifically, he said, he is concerned about taking licenses away from poor students who need to work for their families, but he said something more must be done to address truancy.

State Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said a provision in his bill would exempt students whose parents confirm they need to work to help support their family financially.

State Rep. Larry A. Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, sponsored the bill in the House.

Brandt said Thursday he’s unsure if he will propose the legislation again, noting it failed to gain much traction. However, Brandt noted Republicans took control of the House after the November election and that might give his bill a better chance.

If Brandt does propose the bill again, he said he might split it in two. One bill would contain the driver’s license provision, while another would require school districts to intervene more quickly if students were missing school or falling behind in school.

Current law places too much of a burden on an overcrowded court system and the threat of losing their drivers’ license would put more onus on students, he said.

Under current law, parents can be fined if their children are truant – up to $500 for repeated offenses – but that requires probation officials, district attorneys and the courts to pursue the fines.

“I think when a district attorney has to decide between going after a guy who’s robbed a convenience store or a kid who’s truant, they tend to focus on the worst crimes,” Brandt told the Journal last year.