Four Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to raise the mandatory school attendance age to 17. Senators Lester Jackson (D-2), Steve Henson (D-41), Horacena Tate (D-38) and Freddie Powell Sims (D-12) have sponsored Senate Bill 56, which has been assigned to the Education and Youth Committee where Senator Tate and Senator Powell Serve.
Georgia is one of 23 states with a minimum attendance age of 16; the other 27 set the bar at 17 or 18. States with a minimum of 16 years include perennial best-in-show northeast states like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont, while Southern neighbors like Alabama and Mississippi have already raised the minimum to 17, suggesting that older mandatory attendance is a reaction to– rather than answer for– failing education systems.
Massachusetts first introduced the policy in 1852. Designed to supplement the private religious instruction the Commonwealth had boasted since Plymouth Bay, mandatory school attendance amounted to a rebirth, if not the essential creation, of American public schooling. New England claimed the nation’s best education systems and has ever since.
Proponents of compulsory education argue that it prevents dangerous behavior among adolescents, like teen pregnancy (by 4.7%) or crime, while decreasing the drop-out rate by up to 25%. Curiously, these changes are most pronounced among urban whites.
Opponents argue that mandatory attendance makes schools more dangerous and less effective for students who do want to learn, and that the whole “mandatory education” thing is a bit creepy. As always, Japan is a frequently cited non-sequitur.
For students under the mandatory attendance age, the main consequence of truancy is the denial of a drivers license by the Department of Driver’s Services. If the law passes, the stay may see more students in school and more unlicensed drivers on the road.
Republicans may object to the increased onus the bill will put on counties– as well as the associated spending increases. The bill’s sponsors will need to prove that an additional year of mandatory education has tangible benefits beyond day care for at-risk teens.
But perhaps any statewide panacea that doesn’t involve
tax hikes revenue increases looks pretty good.