Keep students on graduation track

As we approach graduation day, Lansing lawmakers should be doing their homework on how to get more of Michigan’s young people in caps and gowns. Prohibiting a child from throwing away his or her future at the tender age of 16 would help.


A bill in the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, would raise the minimum age for a student to legally drop out from 16 to 18. The legislation has been introduced before but has failed to get the hearing the measure deserves. Yet it’s common knowledge that children who do not graduate from high school are more likely to spend the rest of their lives in poverty, be unemployed, need public assistance and/or end up in jail. Legislators need to pass this bill.


Last year, the state’s Center for Educational Performance and Information reported that 75.45 percent of the students in the Class of 2007 graduated on time, and 15.09 percent dropped out at some point during their four years of high school. President Barack Obama in his first speech to a joint session of Congress said “dropping out of high school is no longer an option.” In today’s 21st century knowledge economy, young people need education or training beyond high school. At the bare minimum a diploma is needed to even have a chance to compete at the lowest job market level.


Allowing kids to quit school at 16 is just stupid. You can’t vote until you are 18. You can’t get married or join the military without parental consent until age 18. And you can’t legally drink until you are 21.


Why would it make sense to allow kids to make a life-changing decision that will affect their ability to support themselves and their families to quit school at 16?


Sen. Elizabeth Brater, D-Ann Arbor, has consistently pushed to raise the legal dropout age. Her thoughtful legislation is not looking to toss kids back into traditional classrooms where they’ve been unsuccessful and, in some cases, disruptive to the rest of the class.


Brater’s bill would allow a school board to offer students an opportunity to complete high school requirements through some alternative education programs, such as vocational programs with apprenticeship or online learning opportunities.


The bill also takes into consideration youngsters in economic hardship, who have to work to live. A child aged 16 or 17 who provides proof they work at least 25 hours per week because of family need could meet attendance requirements by attending school at least 15 hours a week with other instruction.


Ms.Brater’s bill would affect children born after Dec. 1, 1998. That provision is meant to allow districts time to phase in the new law, largely for programming and budget reasons as well as modifying student attitudes. In addition, the provision seeks to be fair to those youngsters who have already dropped out under the current law — but who would become immediate truants under the new law.


Alternative education tracks can benefit those students who have been unmotivated to learn in the traditional classroom. But there has to be adequate support for such innovative opportunities. State funding, for alternative education or otherwise, is hard to come by in this tough economy. Stabilizing the economy is job No. 1 for lawmakers.


But with the need for a more highly skilled and educated workforce in Michigan, education has to be among the top priorities going forward. That means recognizing the potential in all youngsters. At 16, they may not realize it themselves.