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High school dropout age could be lifted to 17

Kendra Bolling

If a north Alabama senator has his way, Alabama students will have to wait until 17 to drop out of school, and have to have parental written consent to do so.

Currently, the state of Alabama’s drop out age is 16, but the Senate Education Committee voted 4-1 for the bill sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur.

Local legislators voiced their opinions on the situation.

Rep. Alan Boothe (D-Troy) said he supports the bill.

“We need to keep children in school because now-a-days it’s hard to get a job without the education. So, I do support the bill,” Boothe said.

But, the bill has yet to come up in the House and Boothe said he wasn’t sure when it might come up.

While, Boothe has a strong opinion of the matter, Sen. Wendell Mitchell (D-Luverne) says he doesn’t have strong feelings one way or another.

“My vote would be cast based on what the school officials feel. Our school superintendents, school boards and principal are the experts in that area,” Mitchell said.

When and if the bill comes up, Mitchell says he’ll go with what they want, but if they are divided, he’ll have to dig a little deeper.

For local school superintendents, the answer might not be so cut and dry.

Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith said she supports the age increase if schools are going to be given extra resources to help keep students engaged.

“I don’t support just increasing the age,” Felton-Smith said.

As for resources to help keep students engaged, Felton-Smith said, schools need that now regardless to whether the dropout age is 16 or 17.

“I support every child being in school,” she said.

As for Pike County Schools, Superintendent Mark Bazzell said the system supports the substitute for House Bill 226, which would require notarized written permission for students 16 or 17 to drop out, and only exceptions will be made for illness, financial hardship or court orders.

Both school systems currently taken extra measures to try to keep students in the classroom before they dropout.

Right now, Troy City Schools contacts a student’s parents, if that student expresses an interest in dropping out.

“At the present time, if we have a student that states he or she wants to drop out, the parent is contacted,” Felton-Smith said. “A student along with his or her parent can opt to drop out.

And this policy applies for students of all ages, not just 16-year-olds.

Pike County Schools spends a lot of time counseling parents and students prior to drop out.

“We try to point out other options for them such as adult education,” Bazzell said.

Felton-Smith said the school system keeps track of why the student is leaving because they have to collect information to include in an annual report indicating that a child is no longer on the roll.

“(Whether they have) transferred to another school instate or out of state or if they dropped out, for every child that is a school leaver, the reason has to be recorded,” Felton-Smith said.

According to Bazzell, the new bill would require the state department to collect data related to dropout.

“This will help determine the reasons we’re losing kids,” Bazzell said.

As for drop out rates in the Troy City School System, Felton-Smith said, the state no longer uses a dropout rate it uses a graduation rate.

“We have tracked the children who started school in the ninth grade and graduated with their class,” Felton-Smith said.

Still, if they don’t graduate on time, the students are counted with the next graduating class, but if they leave school they become a negative.

Graduation rates for both school systems have increased over the past couple of years. At Troy City School, the graduation rate was 76 percent in 2006, it increased to 77 percent in 2007, and the projected graduation rate for 2008 is 80 percent. But, Felton-Smith said the school system is currently waiting on state finalization.

Pike County Schools had a system-wide graduation rate of 76.97 in 2007 and 79.85 in 2008.

Goshen High School increased from 77.42 in 2007 and 82.46 in 2008, and Pike County High School increased from 76.67 in 2007 to 77.92 in 2008.