ATLANTA – Legislators studying the issue of raising Georgia’s mandatory age for school attendance from 16 to 17 were met with tough, complex questions from some metro Atlanta school officials on Wednesday.
“The first question for us is, what is the reason for raising the age for compulsory attendance?” asked Gretchen Walton, compliance and legislative affairs officer for the Cobb County School District. “Our research shows raising the age for compulsory attendance doesn’t increase high school graduation rates. So what are some of the other reasons for doing so?”
“What can you do at age 16?” asked Nicole Holmes, chief academic officer for Cherokee County schools. “What else is out there except fast-food and retail jobs? You can’t join the military. Our own research shows that raising the mandatory attendance age has to be coupled with other programs that support the student. So what is the impact you are hoping for by raising the age?”
The meeting was the fourth of five by a Senate study committee formed earlier this year after state Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, introduced a bill to raise the school attendance age.
“This is an idea for which we’ve seen support in every meeting so far,” Sen. Chuck Payne, R-Dalton, the committee’s chairman, told Capitol Beat before the meeting.
Payne said the committee plans to file its recommendations for consideration in January, when the legislature reconvenes.
“We can already spot kids who are heading down the wrong path by middle school,” he said. “The question is, what more can we do to get them back on the right track?”
“The goal for all of us is to see every student graduate high school,” said Kevin Daniel, chief of staff for the Cobb school superintendent’s office. “The true challenge is seeing a student who doesn’t want to be there.”
Walton also asked how a new mandatory attendance age would be enforced.
“We have to determine if current high school truancy efforts are effective,” she said. “In Cobb, we have three truancy officers serving 17 high schools. That’s three officers for tens of thousands of students.”
State Sen. Gail Davenport, D-Jonesboro, said she thought every Georgia school district has truancy resources, but Walton said those decisions are left to individual districts.
State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, said the reason Georgia hasn’t raised the mandatory age before now is because of “too many unanswered questions like these in the past.
“Keeping kids in school is going to take a much more comprehensive effort than this,” Tippins said. “Just raising the age from 16 to 17 is going to open a lot more unanswered questions, and the definition of insanity is taking the same approach, year after year, and expecting a different result.”
Jackson said Georgia’s current school attendance law is antiquated, dating back to the 1940s.
“We know if kids drop out of school at 16, the best they can do is maybe get a minimum wage job or eventually become dependent on the state,” he said. “We are in a technological environment now, and we need to prepare our young people is to take on challenges of tomorrow.”
“You can’t drink, smoke, vape, go into the military, get an adult driver’s license or watch an R-rated movie at 16,” added state Sen. Albers, R-Roswell. “But the one thing you can do, that will potentially wreck your entire life, is drop out of school. It’s crazy to think we would not require a kid at that age to be in school.”
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.