Our Opinion: If we do it, let's do it right

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A bill currently before the Iowa legislature would raise the minimum age for dropping out of high school from 16 to 18.

Currently 14 states plus the District of Columbia require students to be 18 before dropping out of school. Another nine states require students to be 17. The other 27 states require students to be 16.

The proposal in the Iowa legislature deserves consideration. The change in law would decrease the number of dropouts and increase the percentage of students who earn high school diplomas.

However, the bill should not be passed unless we understand the cost and are willing to pay that cost.

There would be an estimated $19 million in direct taxpayer cost, since the funding for school districts is based on a per pupil amount set by state formula. More students mean more tax money goes to the school districts.

There would also need to be an expansion of alternative high school programs. Alternative high schools serve the needs of those students who for some reason cannot benefit from the standard classroom setting.

We suspect a high proportion of those prevented from dropping out of high school by a change in the law would need an alternative high school setting. Other want-to-be dropouts in the regular classroom setting would need more one-on-one or small group attention than other standard ed students.

The extra money the schools receive from the regular funding formula would pay for some of the increased cost but likely not all of it.

If we're going to require unmotivated, perhaps even alienated, students to sit in classrooms, let's make that experience more than just a waste of time for them, the faculty and the other students.