President Barack Obama’s call for states to raise the minimum age at which students can drop out of high school seems about as popular as a homework assignment on Friday afternoon.
Since the president urged the change in his State of the Union speech in January, only one state has raised its dropout age to 18, and that won’t take effect for five years.
Even legislators in Obama’s home state of Illinois wouldn’t go along with his proposal, despite an endorsement from the governor. They quickly dumped the issue into the limbo of a special study commission after it became clear there wasn’t enough money to support it.
One of the biggest concerns is the cost. If states simply force unwilling students to spend an extra year or two in school, many teens could stay until they are 18 but still leave without a diploma because of poor grades. And extra counseling and remedial courses to help are expensive.
“Where are we going to get the money?” asked state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Chicago Democrat who heads the Illinois Senate’s education committee.
Twenty-nine states let students leave school before they turn 18. Obama urged lawmakers to require them to stay in school until graduation or age 18.
“When students aren’t allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma,” the president said in the speech.
But since then, only Maryland has approved a plan to raise the dropout age, first to 17 in 2015 and then to 18 in 2017.
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At least 13 states considered legislation this year to raise the age, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although the bills weren’t necessarily introduced in response to Obama.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear made raising the dropout age a major goal for the last few years but hasn’t found enough support among state lawmakers. In Wyoming, there was a short-lived suggestion to raise the age and deny driver’s licenses to students who drop out before 18.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn embraced Obama’s proposal, immediately calling for legislation, but without proposing additional funding or programs. The measure never made it out of committee, and lawmakers wound up approving a watered-down version that creates a commission to come up with recommendations on the issue by November.