Legislation to raise the age students are legally allowed to quit high school could reduce Georgia's dropout rate if teens who are forced to spend another year in classes come to see graduation as a possibility, the bill's sponsor contends.
State Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, wants to increase the "mandatory attendance age" - the age at which students legally can drop out of school - from 16 to 17.
"I don't think a person is mature enough (at age 16) or has the mental capacity to make a decision like that that will affect them for the rest of their lives," Jackson said.
The legislation, Senate Bill 301, would require all students to attend public or private schools, or get home-schooled, until they turn 17. Under current law, a student can choose to quit school on his or her 16th birthday.
School superintendents from Augusta to Danielsville, as well as the Georgia Association of Educators, favor increasing the minimum dropout age as pressure mounts on them to raise graduation rates to meet standards under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
"Anything that would require kids to hang in there, or to stay in school longer, is a good thing," Clarke County schools Superintendent Philip Lanoue said. "Every little bit helps.
"You have to wonder, when you let students out of school at 16, where are they going to go? What is a 16-year-old out of high school going to do? What some would say is, 'Well, they're going to work,' and I go, 'Where?' "
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia require students to stay in school until age 18, while eight other states require students to stay until age 17, according to a study by the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy. Twenty-three states including Georgia, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina, have a mandatory attendance age of 16, the center said.
"The fact of the matter is, we've got to find some way to stop the dropout rate," said Jeff Hubbard, President of the Georgia Association of Educators. "More importantly, we've got to find some way to give these kids a future, we've got to find a way to give these kids job skills, to help them have a fighting chance. This is one of the ways to do it."
Not everyone sees raising the dropout age as a good thing.
Resources could be better spent making the high school curriculum interesting and more relevant, instead of forcing students to go to school, said Carl Glickman, a retired UGA education professor.
Proposed legislation that would raise the age a student could drop out of high school from 16 to 17 would encourage more students to graduate and reduce the dropout rate, supporters say. The dropout rate for Northeast Georgia schools ranged from less than 1 percent to nearly 8 percent in the 2007-08 school year.