Governor Chet Culver backs the idea of essentially requiring every teenager in Iowa to finish high school. "I’m for it, all the way," Culver says.
A bill to raise the compulsory school attendance age in Iowa to 18 has failed to win approval in the legislature the past two years, despite Culver’s backing. During this morning’s taping of the IPTV program "Iowa Press," Culver touted the proposal. "As a former high school teacher and coach at Hoover High School here in Des Moines, it broke my heart to see 16, 17 year olds drop out and they could, by law, drop out. There are no consequences. We’re basically telling a 16-year-old, ‘You can drop out. It’s OK,’" Culver said. "I think that’s the wrong message to send."
Critics of the move, like Republican Representative Linda Upmeyer of Garner, say forcing some teenagers to stay in school will end up disrupting classes for those who want to be there, creating more discipline problems for teachers and administrators. Culver calls some of those concerns are "fair," but he still favors the change because he believes it will force some kids to alter their attitude about school.
"If a 14-year-old today wants to drop out of school, their attitude is ‘I just have two more years and I’m outta here.’ Well, if they’re 14 and we change the law, that won’t be an option. They’re going to have a whole different mindset. I think they’ll be much more engaged and focused and interested in graduating," Culver said, "but right now we’re giving them an out and that’s why our dropout numbers continue to go up and up."
According to Culver, this isn’t about money, it’s about reform. "This is an easy step that will send a strong message to all of our kids and to parents and it’ll say that in Iowa it’s not OK for you to drop out when you’re 16," Culver said. "We expect you to graduate and we’re going to help you graduate from high school."
According to data from the "Kids Count" organization, only three other states — Hawaii, Connecticut and Minnesota — have lower high school dropout rates than Iowa.