03/02/10 — Schools want state to raise dropout age to 18

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Schools want state to raise dropout age to 18

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 2, 2010 1:46 PM

Wayne County's school board wants to raise the state's age for dropping out of school from 16 to 18.

Monday night board members adopted a resolution requesting the General Assembly change the "compulsory attendance" policy and in turn, give parents and schools the legal right to prevent students from leaving school until they become legal adults.

It's an issue the board has debated for several years now, Board Chairman Rick Pridgen said.

"Our board, while understanding that if this is done it could cause some problems with students that just do not want to be in school and would normally drop out at 16, still feel(s) that would be an issue we would have to deal with," he said.

Raising the age could be a preventive measure to offset the number of dropouts in the school system, Pridgen said.

"We are trying to be more engaged by offering more options in education, such as academies specializing in certain trades which will broaden the course offerings and be more appealing to those students not satisfied with the traditional course of study," he said. "We feel that if we can continue to offer programs that will interest them and teach them a talent or trade that they will enjoy, they will perhaps have a greater desire to learn and stay in school and pursue a career track suitable to them and their needs."

The topic has also been bandied about in wider circles recently, Pridgen said. He said board members have spoken with several representatives in Raleigh about the possibility of introducing legislation to make such a proposal official.

To do that, though, there are appropriate steps that must be taken. They were advised to first put the proposal into the form of a resolution and to approve it as a board.

That now done, the board will be seeking support from local community and civic leaders and governing officials, as well as state education associations to change the current legislation.

"I have had good conversations with Rep. (Efton) Sager on this issue and Sen. (Don) Davis has been engaged in dialogue as well with our members and administration," Pridgen said. "While this is nothing new to them or other members of the legislature across the state, we feel that this would also gain support of most all school boards across the state. In our dialogue with other board members from across the state, we feel the time is now to pursue this issue formally."

No discussion followed the vote at Monday's board meeting. Board member Dave Thomas, who has avidly discussed the measure at recent meetings, provided the night's only comments.

Other states have already gone in that direction, he said. South Carolina's dropout age is 17, and in February, two other Southern states, Georgia and Kentucky, cleared legislative panels to raise the age to 17 and 18, respectively.

Thomas said that North Carolina's "16-year-old rule" is antiquated, put into place years ago when textile mills, furniture factories and farm labor dictated the need for young men and women to leave school to begin employment.

"Now in the 21st century, we're in a technology age, and we just can't do that," he said. "We're just in a different age."

Thomas became a proponent of raising the dropout age during his days working in the school system.

"I used to be in charge of attendance, and I would go to these homes after (students) had missed 10 consecutive days. I had so many cases where the mother or grandmother would be crying, saying, 'I want him to stay in school' and the kid knows the rules, that he could get out at 16."

Thomas said he supports any effort that will empower parents and the school system to ensure students receive every opportunity to complete their education and go on to a better job.