Democratic state legislative leaders say one of their priorities for the next session is to lower Iowa’s high school dropout rate by raising the mandatory attendance age from 16 to 18. Senate Democratic leader Mike Gronstal, of Council Bluffs, says it’s a great way to reduce the state’s dropout rate without spending more money.
Gronstal says, "Twenty-five percent of the kids that drop out of school will graduate from high school if we just tell them they have to. No new programs, if we just tell them they have to they’ll go, ‘Oh okay, I thought I could leave but I can’t so I’ll stay in school and at least do marginally enough to graduate from high school.’" Gronstal says having a high school diploma is especially important in today’s economy.
He says it’s a challenge for some school districts to take kids who aren’t anxious to be in school. Gronstal says: "What’s the choice? Throw those kids away? I think that’s just crazy." Republicans are cool to the idea of raising the age. They say forcing kids to stay in school when they don’t want to be there will only lead to more trouble.
Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley, of Chariton, worries it would lead to more classroom disruptions. McKinley says he’s talked to many school leaders who say the problems will be greatly increased if there’s a boost in the number of students who don’t want to be there. Representative Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Garner, says forcing kids to stay in school isn’t the answer, suggesting ways need to be found to make kids want to remain in school and graduate.
Upmeyer says if students don’t succeed, they won’t stay in school and if they’re not engaged, they won’t stay, so those are the key issues that need to be addressed. State education officials say raising the age from 16 to 18 could reduce the state’s dropout rate by 25%.