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Bill would keep youths in school to 18

Reps. Mindy Greiling of Roseville and Tim Faust of Hinckley on Wednesday look over paperwork with information about raising the state's mandatory school attendance age to 18. Staff photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL - If the state required students to remain in school until they are 18 years old, they would earn more money and be more emotionally stable, some Minnesota lawmakers say.

If a person drops out of high school, they are at financial and emotional risk, said Sen. Charles W. Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, author of the Senate bill to require students to remain in school until they are 18. "Being able to drop out at 16 is unacceptable."

An Alliance for Excellent Education study shows that the roughly 15,000 Minnesota 2008 dropouts would have earned almost $4 trillion more during their lifetimes if they had graduated.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who wrote the House bill, said the trend across the nation is to raise the age to 18. Wisconsin and South Dakota already have similar laws, and the Iowa House is working on one, too.

Minnesota is one of 12 states where students have the option of leaving school when they turn 16.

During testimony before the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee Wednesday, St. Paul Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said 11 percent of Minnesota high school students dropped out in 2008.

"Initially, what you'll find is a strain on alternative schools, if public school models aren't for them," said Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, a former school board member.

Kelly said he is unsure of an alternative school's ability to react to this influx. "If [it] can't, what will it do to the public system?" he asked.

Minnesota's 143 charter schools and more than 500 alternative schools serve nearly 180,000 students.

"From a positive side, what it might do is force the issue of working with technical or community colleges," Kelly said.

Another positive impact, according to Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, is that schools will receive a little more state funding, although a negative would be that increased student frustration could cause problems for the schools.

Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, remembered seeing students who were not interested in regular class work who would learn technical skills in vocational classes.

"Don't force kids into classrooms they don't want to be in," Skogen said. "Setting the bar higher doesn't mean achievement will be higher."

Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, voiced his concern about the state's problem with students dropping out before 16.

"We're having trouble keeping kids younger than that anyway," he said. "I think we have to do a better job of making kids want to stay."

"A carrot will work better than a stick," he added.

Keeping 15-year-olds in school also can be challenging, said Charlie Kyte, president of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

"I think, by and large, educators would be supportive," Kyte said about the bill.

"Some educators might say 'some kids won't want schooling,' and the other side would say, 'It is absolutely imperative to keep them in,'" Kyte said.

The law affects children in private schools, including religious schools, and public schools. Home schooled students would not be affected by the bill's changes.

Parthun, a University of Minnesota journalism student, reports for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau this semester.