Critics Say Jump From Age 16 Could Prove Costly And Lead To More Truancy
Grace E. Merritt
April 27, 2011
The legislature's appropriations committee Tuesday approved a controversial bill to increase the high school drop-out age to 18, starting July 1.
Proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the bill is designed to keep students in school and prohibits them from withdrawing until they are 18, a change from the current drop-out age of 16.
Advocates say the higher age would make it more difficult for students to drop out and would help combat the so-call push out phenomenon, in which struggling students are persuaded to withdraw voluntarily and enroll in adult-education programs.
But opponents say the bill, while well-intentioned, would be costly and could lead to more truancy.
Under current law, high school students can withdraw from school at 16 as long as they have parental consent. A law passed in 2009 changes that to 17 years old as of July 1.
The bill, which now goes to the floor of the House and Senate, also requires school principals to notify the parents or guardians of students in danger of failing a course at least six weeks before the end of the course.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, who co-chairs the legislature's education committee, said both measures are good public policy. He said that Connecticut Constitution obligates the state to provide education to students through age 18.
Malloy proposed the change to help increase graduation rates in the state, giving students a better shot at improving their lives.
But David A. Downes, vice president of the Connecticut Association for Adult and Continuing Education, said the bill would be implemented so quickly that it would give school districts little time to prepare.
"It kind of becomes an unfunded mandate because, for each of these kids, the school system has got to create something different for them if they're going to keep them in the school system," said Downes, who is director of adult education in West Hartford.
Some students drop out because of serious situations such as severe bullying or because they need to find a day job to help support their family. Adult education programs give these children the flexibility that regular school programs can't provide, Downes said.
Currently there are about 1,500 16- and 17-year-old dropouts in adult education programs in Connecticut, Downes said. If those students remained in school, it would cost municipalities about $20 million collectively, based on the average per-pupil cost of $13,500. By comparison, it costs about $450,000 to put the same 1,500 students through adult education credit diploma programs, Downes said.
Fleischmann disputed claims that the bill would be costly. He said the bill really just maintains "current law," which he says requires students to stay in school until they are 18.
"This just maintains the status quo, and there is no impact on any program," he said.
But Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, said that Fleischmann's reasoning is misleading because current law requires students to stay in school only until they are 16.
After some pressing from Republicans, officials at the legislature's Office of Fiscal Analysis, which analyzes the financial impact of proposed legislation, said the bill "would preclude a potential marginal savings to local and regional school districts." This is because those school districts would have to educate additional students — those who otherwise would have dropped out.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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