Missouri Legislature raises age to drop out of school

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Students will be required to wait longer before dropping out of high school, under a bill that cleared the Missouri Legislature.

The reduced version of an education reform package passed Thursday night with several components, which include a four-day school week and a work program. Among other measures, the bill increased the required high school attendance age, which is currently 16. Students must be 17 or have completed 16 credits toward graduation, under the new legislation. The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon.

The reactions of area school officials to the new age requirement were mixed.

"I do not believe the legislative mandate will cause a student that is disinterested in school to become interested in school," said Dr. Mike Cowan, principal of Cape Girardeau Central High School.

He said the change is not an effective way to address dropout rates. Schools should focus on building relationships with students and giving them incentives to succeed, he said.

"Students are young adults, and young adults can be best reached by logic and reason," he said.

Dr. Ron Anderson, superintendent of the Jackson School District, said he and his administrators view the change positively. He said keeping students in school longer will increase their motivation to graduate. Students, he said, focus on turning 16 so they can drop out.

"The mindset's changed, so now you don't have that option anymore," Anderson said.

Scott City superintendent Diann Bradshaw-Ulmer said the increase could strain the school's support system, including juvenile courts and truancy officers. She said the minimum credit requirement will not be effective.

"If they were dedicated enough to get the 16 hours of credit, then they're probably not going to be dropping out of school," she said.

Bradshaw-Ulmer said she understood the intent is to wait until students can make a more mature decision about their future but said she was unsure whether it would make a difference.

"It might and hopefully it will," she said.

Another component included in the bill allows four-day school weeks at the discretion of school districts.

The legislation also established a flexible hour program, which allows junior and senior students to attend school a minimum of two hours each day. Students are allowed to work or receive technical training for the rest of the day, provided they meet attendance and behavior standards.

Bradshaw-Ulmer said Scott City already has similar programs in place for at-risk students and students who need special services.

"I like the idea," she said. "It opens it up for juniors and seniors to explore more in-depth an area they might want to make a career out of."

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

614 E. Adams St., Jackson, MO

3000 Main St. Scott City, MO

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