A bill that would raise the legal drop-out age for high schoolers is in limbo. Members of the House Education Committee considered the proposal last week then tabled it, but the legislation could be revived this week. Under current law a student may legally stop attending high school when they reach the age of 16, but state education officials argue the age should be raised to 18.
Jeff Berger, a lobbyist for the Iowa Department of Education, says it’s time to raise expectations. “This communicates a clear expectation for everyone — educators, students, parents, policymakers — that this is the goal that we need to work toward,” he says. Legally forbidding kids to drop out before they reach the age of 18 would be good for society in general, according to Berger. “There are some pressures ramping up on all of us to make sure kids are prepared better for the economy we’re living in,” Berger says.
“We’re saying that anything less than a high school diploma shouldn’t be acceptable anymore.” In addition, he says it could help parents who are struggling to get their kid to stay in school. I have been in situations in the past working with parents where all they needed was…somebody at their back,” Berger says. “Somebody to say ‘No, we think this is important, too, so keep working.'”
But a lobbyist for the Iowa State Education Association — that’s the state teacher’s union — says forcing kids to attend school can lead to disruptions in the classroom. Brad Hudson says unless the higher age requirement is coupled with more money for alternative high schools, it won’t work.
Hudson says the students who are forced to stay in school need to be separated from the kids who want to learn. “They become disruptive for the other students. If we can’t find an alternative setting, we don’t know that this improves it for the students (who) do want to show up everyday,” Hudson says. Legislators, meanwhile, says they want to encourage kids to graduate but aren’t sure raising the legal drop-out age is the solution.