Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


February 21, 2013

A worthy goal

State can help reduce dropout rates

— — West Virginia lawmakers are considering a bill that seeks to raise the age when students can drop out of school. If passed, the age limit would rise from 16 to 17. The goal is to give students more time to think about the consequences of leaving school before they make the decision whether to drop out or not.

Legislators backing the bill hope it will decrease the state’s drop-out rate, reduce the number of people dependent on welfare assistance, and avoid addiction to alcohol or drugs.

The bill would also require county school systems to create a program designed to help students with failing grades earn the credits they need for graduation. Mercer County schools have such a program already, according to Superintendent Dr. Deborah Akers. Akers said most county school systems have a credits recovery program, but she is concerned about such programs becoming mandatory. If the program is an unfunded mandate, it could adversely impact school system budgets.

Akers said while giving students more time in class to help them make a better decision would help, there are other factors impacting whether they stay in school. First, not all students have support at home when it comes to their education. Some parents do not help them be successful in school, and others do not value education and do not mind if their children drop out.

Raising the state’s drop-out age and giving students an opportunity to make up those credits needed for graduation are good ideas, but it must be remembered that such moves will not be free. If credit recovery programs are mandated, then they should be funded, too. County school systems are on tight budgets already.

Legislators should remember that teachers and schools face a lot of challenges when it comes to keeping students in school. Sometimes they need help that just giving them more hours and days in school cannot address. Not all students have the support of their parents and guardians. Families have to deal with unemployment, absent parents, health issues, transportation issues, and other economic hardships. A truancy program in Mercer County often reveals that students have problems that keep them from getting to school. Helping county school systems find the funding to deal with truancy could be one way the Legislature could help lower drop-out rates.

Reducing West Virginia’s drop-out rate is a worthy goal, but any legislation addressing the problem should come with the funding school systems need to implement it.

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