SB 56 to Raise School Mandatory Attendance Age to 17

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.


  1. John Konop says:

    Rules will not force students to learn….We need to focus on options that match aptitude and interest….not the force feeding….the failure of No Child Left behind….was similar logic…Forcing a one size fit all path is not a smart….this falls into the same logic….instead of dealing with the real issue.


    1) On line schools with the ability to take classes in schools as well….to flex with work schedule

    2) Co-op options promoted at school with conjunction with local chamber

    3) Certificate/license skilled based learning verse end of year macro testing for students

    4) Merging higher education with high schools…to make sure options and curriculum matches goal of students gaining skills for a job and or prepared for higher education

    Can we not focus on real solution…over this feel good BS…..?

  2. Dr. Monica Henson says:

    I support increasing the mandatory school age. Having sixteen-year-olds out on the street isn’t doing good things for society, generally speaking. I agree with John, though, that we need to offer more options for older teenagers that intertwine higher education of a variety of types with high school education.

    No child shows up for the first day of kindergarten thinking, “I hate this place,” “I want for my teachers to flinch when I walk into the classroom,” “I want to disrupt everything for my classmates,” etc. By the time they hit ninth grade, a disturbing and significant percentage of kids are disenchanted and disillusioned by what should have been the promise of education. In reality, the quality of the school experience for children depends in great part on their ZIP code of residence. We have to change this.

    • Chet Martin says:

      From much of my limited personal and research experience, I’ve come to believe that a large cause of what you described is the way we educate young boys. At 5, young boys are asked to sit down, be quiet, don’t touch for hours on end. The proclivities (natural or otherwise) of very young American males are defined as precisely what a school doesn’t want. So a good number reach the “I hate school” mentality by middle school.

      If that’s true, I’m not sure what the answer is. Sex-segregated early education? More male elementary teachers? Shorter school days or more kinetic learning? No idea. But it’s certainly a problem

      • Dr. Monica Henson says:

        Chet, I agree with you. Elementary schooling in this country strongly favors behaviors that are far easier for girls to demonstrate than for boys. We need to make significant adjustments in the way that elementary schooling is done. I used to be principal of an elementary school that offers both traditional kindergarten and an ungraded primary classroom for K-1 students that is much more exploration- and activity-based. Parents are able to select the one they feel will best meet their child’s needs.

        However, I don’t believe that the nature of classroom design in the primary and later elementary grades is the only major determining factor in why so many boys end up hating school and wanting to quit as soon as they are sixteen. Another issue is the quality of instruction provided to them over the years, and that comes down to teaching. I’m not going to teacher-bash, but I do want to describe a phenomenon that has plagued the schools in lower-income areas for many decades. The schools that are most in need of capable, accomplished teachers are the least likely to get them and keep them. For that reason, the kids most in need of great teachers have been sitting, year after long, stultifying year, in classrooms that have been headed by the least accomplished teachers available, in some cases by long-term substitutes. School becomes nothing more than crowd control, and frequently not even that. To be fair, this is generally because those schools tended to be headed by the least capable administrators in the district.

        These children understand, very clearly, well before middle school, that the promise of education as an exciting thing that will enable them to reach for a brighter future is for other, luckier, better off kids. That realization kills something inside of many children. They lose hope.

        Does this mean that parents are off the hook? That impoverished communities and their lack of supportive resources and a culture of achievement don’t matter? Of course not. However, we have children, in the traditional school environment, for seven to eight hours a day, five days a week. We can make an impact during that time, but only if we resource schools with great people and retain them. I’m not arguing that we throw more money at the problem. It’s been demonstrated quite conclusively over time that great teachers are motivated by altruism and a great principal far more so than by bigger paychecks. We have to find ways to get excellent leaders into the schools that need them the most, and to do that, we have to give them control over staffing and other decisions so that they can do what is necessary to improve those schools—this idea is at the core of the concept of an Opportunity School District, by the way.

          • Dr. Monica Henson says:

            It’s a start, in an extremely limited way. As long as sixteen-year-olds can opt out, there will be a pipeline of them leaving. This at least stems that flow. It’s up to schools really to help the issue by making high school more relevant, offering options for kids for whom the traditional hours, delivery model, setting, etc., don’t work well or at all.

  3. backer2 says:

    I taught a year at a low socio-economic school where the dropout rate was high. I can tell you from that experience, more teaching/learning was happening with the juniors and seniors than the freshmen and sophomores. The biggest reason why? Many of those that were disruptive to the process had dropped out. From that point forward, I no longer looked at the dropout rate in the same way.

    That is a single person’s view from their first year of teaching, so take it for what it is worth. That said, I don’t believe the authors of this bill are getting what they think they are. I like John’s suggestions above.

  4. atldawgs14 says:

    I understand the perceived benefits of mandatory attendance, but losing the ability to (legally) drive would be a pretty harsh punishment. Those students who do not attend school are either A. Working, B. Shouldering some of their family’s responsibilities, or C. Up to no good. What about the kid who has to help provide for his/her family? I don’t see how this would do anything but make their lives more difficult.

    Also, by placing a student who just doesn’t care in schools (And telling them, “You can’t have your car till you’ve finished”), we would be placing a lot of faith in a teacher’s ability to motivate that student to learn and discourage him/her from getting into trouble. Teachers are the life-blood of education, so I’m in no way trying to diminish their importance. But at the same time I do know, from first-hand experience, that not every teacher has the ability to turn a child’s life around. This seems like just another requirement placed on teachers. Not only do you have to teach students the material, but now you have to attempt to motivate a number of students who have absolutely no interest in learning. To me, this seems a bit unfair for everyone: the teachers who need to teach, the students who want to learn, the students who don’t, and the families who rely on their children to help keep their head above water.

    • Dr. Monica Henson says:

      Agreed, and I’ve seen this play out in ways that have unintended consequences that can be devastating. I have watched a superintendent in another state hold 16- and 17-year-old kids hostage to the fact that they could not go seek a GED under the age of 18 without his signature, and the families pressured into signing statements that they were withdrawing the students to homeschool them instead of the kids dropping out. This enabled the district to code them as transfers to homeschool, artificially inflating the cohort graduation rate by gaming the numbers. I’ve seen a young woman refused permission at age 16 by a superintendent to sign up for the GED program, and she ended dropped out anyway and ended up a substance abuser and pregnant by the age of 18.

      The dropout profile is extremely complex. Not every kid who quits school is a lazy brat or someone who was previously disrupting class for everyone else. Many folks don’t realize that there are thousands of teenage kids, and even pre-teens that have to be the primary caregivers in their families in the absence, inability, or refusal of parents and other relatives.

      There are more than 1.3 million kids age 8-18 in this country who are caregivers for disabled or elderly relatives. Roughly the same number of children are caregivers for family members with physical or mental illness or substance abuse. Many students work to put food on the table for younger siblings—the U. S. Department of Agriculture has documented nearly 16 million minors living in food-insecure households.

      • saltycracker says:

        These are problems that make matters worse and need solutions and options beyond holding them in a classroom.

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