Officials lobby for dropout age raise

Richmond County school officials want the legal age for dropping out increased, and they've made their case to area lawmakers.

 

"It's not even lined up with the typical age a child will finish high school," Superintendent Dana Bedden recently told the area's legislative delegation, noting how 16 is the allowed dropout age yet most graduate at 17.

The idea, school officials say, is to have the dropout age increased to at least 17 and possibly 18. Dr. Bedden recently presented the proposal, among others focused on education, to the area legislative delegation to consider in their 2010 session.

The increase, which would require legislation, is backed by the Georgia School Boards Association.

"It's one of our legislative positions," said association spokeswoman Laura Reilly.

According to the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, 23 states have established a legal dropout age of 16, eight states have set theirs at 17 and 19 have a dropout age of 18. The Rennie Center states in a recent report that since 2000, seven states have increased the legal dropout age to 18. In the past two years, at least 10 states have defeated legislation changing the age from 16 to 18.

According to the center's report, opponents argue that increasing the age could incur greater costs in teaching more students and in enforcing mandatory attendance.

Proponents, the center states, say an age increase would reduce the number of dropouts. They also argue that laws establishing 16 as the legal dropout age are outdated as they were created when a diploma wasn't as essential.

In Richmond County, the dropout issue was raised as administrators met for a One-Third Summit two months ago to work on a five-year plan on dropout prevention. The summit's name reflected that roughly a third of Richmond County students fail to graduate -- a figure that mirrors the national trend.

State data show Richmond County has increased its graduation rate from 63.8 percent in 2008 to 70.4 percent for 2009. The county's 2007-08 dropout rate -- the most recent figure available -- was 4.1 percent compared with 6.4 percent in 2006-07 and 5.8 percent in 2005-06, according to the Governor's Office of Student Achievement.

In 2007, the system's dropout and graduation rates were analyzed by The Chronicle , showing that in many cases students weren't counted in graduation rates because they failed to graduate on time or disappeared from student rolls.

Some Augusta high school seniors said they think increasing the dropout age is a good idea.

"I absolutely agree," said 17-year-old Westside High senior Sidney Walker, adding that a 16-year-old dropout is too young to get a good job and would have nothing else to do but "crime, sleep, watch TV and eat cereal."

Westside senior Bryce Ginn, also 17, said he questions the change noting that most who drop out at 16 would probably still do so at 17 or 18.

Westside Principal Debbie Alexander said "16 might be a little young to make life choices."

Area delegation members have said they'll examine the idea further.

"I would like to have a little more information as to what that might accomplish," said Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3851 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

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