Dropout Bill Dropped . . . Again

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Like clockwork, multiple pieces of legislation that would raise the dropout age from 16 to 18 have been introduced in the opening days of the 2009-'10 session, marking at least the eighth straight session for the measure.

A year after a Rep. Lamar LEMMONS Jr. (D-Detroit) bill moved out of the House Education Committee, Lemmons has introduced another one (HB 4132). And he's not alone. In fact, Rep. Doug GEISS (D-Taylor) beat Lemmons to the punch this year with HB 4030.

House Education Committee Chair Tim MELTON (D-Pontiac) said he's committed to moving the issue in his committee again in the coming months, even if it means amending the bill to simply requiring parental consent for 16-year-olds who drop out of school.

"Allowing a 16 year old to drop out of school without parental consent flies in the face of everything that Michigan is trying to do by creating a higher educated workforce in the changing economy," Melton said.

Raising the drop-out age from 16 to 18 is something Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM has mentioned in at least two State of the State addresses, and something state superintendents have wanted for years. Melton said the current age of 16 was set in 1896 when teenagers needed the flexibility to leave school to help plow, till and plant as part of the state's agrarian economy.

With the 21st Century economy requiring, more than ever, a level of technical training, raising the dropout age would be a start to addressing the unacceptably high dropout rates in urban areas, Melton said.

"We can do better," he said.

In 2007, four bills increasing the dropout age from 16 to 18 were introduced in the House and Senate. The Senator representing Ann Arbor has introduced the bill every session since 1995.

Sen. Liz BRATER (D-Ann Arbor) is carrying the mantel for the fourth straight session in SB 0170 after years of now-Rep. Alma Wheeler SMITH (D-Salem Twp.) proposing the measure. And she may not be alone this time, either.

Senate Education Committee Chair Wayne KUIPERS (R-Holland) said he talked today with another senator who was talking about introducing a dropout age bill, too.

That doesn't mean Kuipers' apprehension about the measure has changed. He pointed out that the enforcement of the current age of 16 isn't keeping kids in school as it is. How would simply raising the age to 18 address the dropout problem?

Also, homeschoolers are worried that more government regulation on the subject could ultimately impact them with registration requirements, etc.

"Until I have an assurance that this will in no way impact those homeschoolers who are doing good work, we're not going there," he said.

Brater said her bill was proposed on the basis that some students do better outside of traditional classroom settings. It allows alternative and vocational education as well as community college courses to count toward graduation. Apprenticeship and work study programs would qualify under this approach, as well as an option for a student to complete courses online.

If this bill is adopted, it would affect students currently in the fifth grade or younger. Fifteen other states, including Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, Texas and Kansas, require school attendance to the age of 18.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average male high school dropout earns only $19,000 per year while the average female dropout makes only $12,000. The average high school graduate will have an annual income at least 50 percent higher than his or her non-graduate counterpart. This disparity grows every year.

Aside from the economic costs involved with dropping out of school early, there are also severe social costs. According to the Department of Corrections, approximately 70 percent of the inmate population in Michigan prisons last year had not completed high school. The state spends $6,700 per pupil per year, but it costs almost $30,000 per year to house a prison inmate.

Source: MIRS News