Obama proposal to raise dropout age falls flat

The White House has not made the idea a public priority. Asked for details about the proposal nearly a week after the State of the Union, spokesman Jay Carney said he didn’t have any. And the president himself has hardly mentioned it since.

Neither the White House nor the U.S. Department of Education would discuss the slow response to Obama’s call for action or address objections raised by critics. White House spokeswoman Caroline Hughes issued a statement saying the president “continues to believe that when students stay in school, they are more likely to succeed in today’s economy.”

Nearly three out of every 10 students leave high school without a diploma. Research shows high school dropouts are more likely to spend time in jail, endure unemployment, and earn lower wages.

Legislators and education experts welcomed the emphasis on education and the dropout age, but they say it’s not a simple fix to raise the graduation rate.

“It can’t just be ‘tie them to their chairs until they are 18.’ It has to be giving them a meaningful education,” said Lily Eskelsen, an elementary teacher from Utah and the vice president of the National Education Association.

With many students facing disadvantages such as poverty, learning disabilities, or weak English skills, the effort to keep them enrolled has to be wide-ranging.

“How do we catch them before they are falling behind? If you don’t do all of it as a system, it won’t work,” Eskelsen said.

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In Maryland, the state expects to spend $35 million more on education when the age rises to 17 and $54 million more when the age reaches 18 in 2017.

Proponents argued the state will save money in the long run by having a better-educated workforce that will pay more taxes.

Aisha Braveboy, a Democratic delegate who sponsored the measure, also noted that people without a high school diploma are eight times more likely to end up in the state’s criminal-justice system.

“From a financial perspective, it makes absolute sense to invest in education instead of incarceration,” Braveboy said.

In Illinois, Democratic state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia sponsored the House legislation to raise the dropout age but now says it was the wrong move.

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