President Obama’s proposal in his January State of the Union address for states to raise the age at which students can drop out of school hasn’t met with much enthusiasm from state governments. Even in Illinois, the President’s home state where his policies enjoy a high level of support, and despite endorsement from the state governor, no one is in a rush to act to make this proposal into law. Currently, the bill is stuck in a special study commission and is unlikely to acted on by the full legislative body.
One of the barriers standing in the way of adoption is the price tag. All over the country, states are battling unprecedented budget deficits, and few can find the money to fund an additional year or two of schooling for students unwilling to apply themselves. Furthermore, there’s no indication that forcing kids to stay in school until they are 18 does anything to improve overall graduation rates, and instead prevents those looking to get a full-time job to continue to pursue a study program they don’t wish to complete.
“Where are we going to get the money?” asked state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Chicago Democrat who heads the Illinois Senate’s education committee.
Twenty-nine states let students leave school before they turn 18. Obama urged lawmakers to require them to stay in school until graduation or age 18.
In his speech the President said that not allowing kids to walk away from their education might lead some of them to stay until they graduate, but so far only Maryland has taken concrete steps to making staying in school until the age of 18 mandatory for its high schoolers. Even those plans a very tentative: students will be required to stay in school until the age of 17 by 2015, and 18 by 2017. Another 13 states considered similar legislation, though no immediate action is anticipated.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear made raising the dropout age a major goal for the last few years but hasn’t found enough support among state lawmakers. In Wyoming, there was a short-lived suggestion to raise the age and deny driver’s licenses to students who drop out before 18.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn embraced Obama’s proposal, immediately calling for legislation, but without proposing additional funding or programs. The measure never made it out of committee, and lawmakers wound up approving a watered-down version that creates a commission to come up with recommendations on the issue by November.
Although slow action on raising the drop out age could be considered by some as a rebuke to President’s policies, the fact that nearly one-half of the states where the drop-out age is under 18 have even raised the issue with their law-making bodies without the President making it a legislative priority could be considered a win for the increasingly-embattled Administration.