Iowa lawmakers are debating raising the age at which students can legally dropout of school. A student can leave school at sixteen right now, but the Iowa Department of Education has asked the legislature to raise that to age eighteen. Democratic Representative Lisa Heddens of Ames says the state should set higher expectations.
“Education has been a strong area for our state,” says Heddens, “and yet we give the message that kids can dropout of school at sixteen.” Heddens says if we want to have strong education and students ready to go on to higher education or into the workforce, they need to have a diploma. “We just know that when they’ve got that strong education that they’re going to do better, have more success future in life.”
But representative Art Staed, a fellow Democrat, says the law won’t work without giving schools more money to run alternative programs for dropouts. Staed is a seventh-grade social-studies teacher in Cedar Rapids, and says forcing an unwilling student back into a traditional classroom just won’t work. “It’s almost like flogging dead horses,” Staed says. “You’re making them angry, and influencing the population that’s already there that’s willing and wants to be there.”
Efforts to raise the dropout age have failed before, over similar concerns, but education officials say 1,100 kids drop out of Iowa schools every year and they’d like to at least cut that figure in half. Jeff Berger is a legislative liaison for the Education Department. Berger says expectations should be consistent, and right now state policy is not. “We are under federal law holding schools accountable for graduation rates, while at the same time we’re continuing to support a policy that allows them to opt out of the system at sixteen.”
“We thought it was an important policy statement to make,” says Berger, “to say our minimum expectation as a state now is that you get your diploma.” The Iowa Civil Liberties Union opposes the change. Legislative Director Marty Ryan says tougher truancy laws only end up punishing the parents. Especially today, Ryan says more parents are dealing with kids. He suggests “a six-foot-one, 225-pound boy…telling him that he has to go to school, it just isn’t gonna work in some cases.” They spoke to reporters during an education subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.