Dropout solution needs funding

Friday, February 8, 2008

The state legislature is considering raising the minimum age for dropping out from the current age of 16 to 18. If this is done, the state should be prepared to pay the extra cost and also be willing to be more flexible in making high school worthwhile for reluctant students.

There would be extra direct taxpayer costs as the result of increased enrollment. School districts receive a per-pupil amount of funding from a combination of state aid and local property tax set by state formula.

There will also be an increase in alternative school expense. State law requires districts to offer alternative school classes to students who are unable to attend school in the standard setting. A high proportion of those who drop out would likely need the alternative high school option.

The increased funding through the per-pupil based financing would likely pay for part but not all of the added expense for alternative high school instruction.

Also, efforts to control truancy would need to increase significantly if schools are to keep 16 and 17 year olds in school, basically against their will. Truancy law enforcement should neither be neglected nor become an expensive unfunded mandate for school districts.

Schools will need to make the school day worthwhile for all students, including those who are there only because of legal requirements. Unfortunately, the state's misguided attempt to create a nearly uniform education for all students makes the school day less relevant for some students.

The state now requires that students take core courses that have long been recommended for students planning on attending a college offering a four-year degree. Vocational and fine arts elective offerings will suffer as a result of increasing mandatory core courses.

Potential dropouts need more, not fewer alternatives in the school day. Forcing unmotivated students to sit through classes that they see no value in wastes their time and has the potential of creating disruptive behavior that could undermine education for all students.