Heffernan Bill Would Raise School Attendance Age to 18 Years

DOVER – In an effort to encourage students to graduate high school, the age at which students must attend school would be increased to 18 under legislation unveiled Thursday.
Sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan, the measure would raise the age requirement for compulsory school attendance in Delaware from 16 to 18 over a two-year period. Currently, a student who is 16 years old or older is not legally required to be enrolled in school. The draft legislation is similar to House Bill 244 in the 146th General Assembly, which was tabled in the House Education Committee in 2012.
“We stress over and over how invaluable an education is to being successful in life. We see more and more of that in the 21stcentury, a high school diploma is no longer optional. It really is the minimum education for young people today who want economic success and independence,” said Rep. Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South. “As we continue working to improve our educational system, we need to have students staying to complete their coursework.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 23 other states require school attendance until students are 18. Another 11 states require attendance until students reach 17. Maryland’s General Assembly passed a law in 2012 increasing its age from 16 to 17 this year and to 18 in 2017.
According to a National Conference of State Legislatures report, Delaware lags behind surrounding states for average graduation rate for the 2007-08 school year. High School graduates working fulltime earned about $6,500 more than high school dropouts, who earned an average of $23,500 annually. The NCSL report also noted that 2009 unemployment among high school dropouts was about 50 percent higher than the rate for high school graduates.
“On one hand, schools are trying hard to increase the graduation rate,” said Rep. Heffernan, a former Brandywine School Board president. “On the other, we are saying it is OK to drop out of school at 16. We need a consistent message and consistent policies.”
The measure, which also will be sponsored by Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden and Sen. David Sokola, would be phased in over two years, with a one-year interim period in which the required school attendance age would be 17 years beginning September 1, 2016. The age would increase to 18 beginning September 1, 2017.
The proposal also preserves an exemption allowing a child to be excused from required attendance at the request of the child’s parent or legal guardian with written support from a qualified health professional. It also allows an exemption for children who graduate from high school before they turn 18, and incorporates flexibility for alternative routes to completing high school for youth age 16 and older.